Dancing Naked in Dixie Review & Author Interview

How cool would it be to make a living as a travel writer? Jet-setting to lavish bucket list-worthy destinations on the company’s dime sure sounds like a dream come true. But then again, how could you make a life for yourself if you never really have a place to call home? What if white sandy beaches, poolside cocktails and cute cabana boys all just became another part of the daily grind? Hmm…maybe Samantha Brown’s life isn’t all champagne and roses after all.

For Julia Sullivan, the leading lady in Dancing Naked in Dixie, the frenetic life of a travel writer is the perfect escape from reality. Shattered by her mother’s death, she distracts herself by flitting from one country to the next and putting together generic stories at the last minute. With nothing to come home to, except an empty Manhattan apartment and a workaholic boyfriend, Julia’s fast-pace lifestyle is the perfect distraction from her empty life.

After turning in another flat travel story, the new editor in chief gives her one last chance to write a solid piece. But rather than sending her to an exotic resort as originally planned, he’s reassigning her to Eufaula, Alabama. To make matters worse, the new head honcho just so happens to be Julia’s estranged father. Ouch!

Like your typical city slicker, she scoffs at the idea of writing a glossy magazine story about a podunk country town. In fact, she’d rather dance naked that travel to Alabama!

Home of antebellum mansions, super-sweet tea and Southern belles, Eufaula is a far cry from the bustling streets of Manhattan. But just the thought of slowing down and smelling the roses sends Julia into a tizzy. Without a rigid schedule of spa treatments, scuba diving and five-star dining, she might have to finally stand still and be alone with her thoughts.

Despite her misgivings, she soon finds herself enveloped in a colorful world of fragrant magnolia trees, quirky townsfolk and stately historic mansions. And after meeting the charming locals – including a most handsome town historian – her plans to write a quick and dirty story soon fall to the wayside.

Little did she know, her story takes second seat to the drama unfolding around Phase Three, a development plan put in motion by some shady dealings with the city council.  But it’s not just the local politics that keep her from rushing back to New York. Somehow she managed to get attached to her handsome tour guide and his quirky family. Heck, she’s even growing fond of the flamboyant B&B owner, Roger, who never lets her slip out the door without a gabfest.

Unlike any other travel adventure, this is the first time Julia really connects with her surroundings. And for the first time since her mother’s death, she’s starting to feel whole again.

How is she ever going to return to her jet-setting lifestyle after leaving a big piece of her heart in Eufaula? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Trust me, fellow Southern fiction fans, it’s worth your while!

I was really impressed by Lauren’s debut novel Stay Tuned but this one really stole my heart. Many readers, myself included, will undoubtedly connect with Julia’s endearing personality. Despite her flaws, she’s compassionate toward others and truly cares about the fate of a small town that’s far removed from her own life in Manhattan.

What I love most about this book is the balance of heartache and humor. To quote the great Truvy Jones (Steal Magnolia fans, you know who I’m talking about!) laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. And Lauren Clark does a fine job of tickling my funny bone while tugging at my heartstrings.  If you aren’t already a Lauren Clark fan,  Dancing Naked in Dixie will help draw you into her fold.

Without further ado, I am pleased to present a Q&A with the mastermind behind this fun and frothy story of self-discovery, Lauren Clark.

Welcome Lauren! What do you love most about being a writer?

 I do love connecting with readers just after a book has been released. There’s so much excitement and worry about how the story will be received. With Dixie, I’ve been so amazed with the warm reception and readers embracing the characters right away! I actually held off on committing to come to Eufaula for a book signing until a few people there had read it and LIKED it . They’ve invited me August 2nd to Shorter Mansion , so that’s a good sign!

 I read on your blog that Eufaula is a real small town in Alabama. Why did you choose to set your story in this particular Southern hamlet?

 I used to live about a half-hour from Eufaula, and one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon was to drive up to Eufaula, have lunch and walk around the historic district. I attended several of the Pilgrimages, one at dusk when the streets light up with candles and everyone is in old-fashioned dress. It’s so lovely, like stepping back in time two hundred years.

 You did a fabulous job describing the sights, the sounds and the people of Eufaula. It’s almost as though the town is a character itself! Why is it important to pay close attention to the setting in a story?

 I think that readers like to explore a place they’ve never been or might never visit. I think that it’s the author’s job to provide enough setting details to make it seem real and come alive. Too much detail, and it’s overwhelming; just enough and it doesn’t get in the way of the story. I actually poured over maps of the city and marked the different locations, then tacked it up on my wall so that I had the picture firmly in my mind of where Julia would go and what she would see!

There are so many colorful characters in your book. If you could take one of them out to lunch, who would you choose and why?

 I love Roger. He’s so flamboyant, yet insecure at times. He’s the best friend you’d want to have in Eufaula – he knows everyone and everything that goes on. He’s the catastrophe manager; always the one who knows what to do and say in a crisis.

What do you love about Southern living?

There’s something about the way of life in the South that makes a person breathe a little deeper, sleep a little better, and enjoy the little things in life. The sky is blue almost every day, there are flowers blooming everywhere, and right now, the peaches are so ripe that you can smell summer right in the palm of your hand.

What kind of research went into writing this book? Did you go on any pilgrimages in Eufaula or perhaps another charming small town?

 I did attend Pilgrimages in Eufaula, but have not had an opportunity to do so in other towns. It’s on my bucket list!

While reading your book, I thought of that cute WB show “Hart of Dixie.” In terms of Southern culture, where does Hollywood go right? And where do they miss the mark?

 I adore Zoe Hart and George … I’ve been a big fan of the show since the start. I think that Zoe and Julia would be fast friends. And I can’t decide if I love or hate Wade … and just when Lemon is awful, I melt a little and empathize with her high-strung character. I do wish she would just hook up with the Mayor and get it over with!!!  (Disclaimer: I began writing Dancing Naked in Dixie more than five years ago … and finished it up when a friend begged me to. It was right around the time when “Hart of Dixie” came on the air!!)

I think that Hollywood goes overboard when they cast characters from the Deep South as uneducated and not very bright. I’ve met so many wonderful, talented, and brilliant people since I moved to Alabama, I feel lucky to call them my friends.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to aspiring novelists?

 I have several:  (1) It takes a lot of hard work to get that first manuscript done. My advice is to finish it, no matter how awful or flawed your story. My first novel will NEVER see the light of day, but I had to get through it to learn and improve. (2) Someone wise once said that you have to write a million words before you find your voice as an author. I have to admit – as  much as I hate to – that it is true. (3) I read as much as I can about the craft of writing (three dozen books, at least) and listen to advice from authors who have been there in the trenches long before I picked up my laptop. (4) I read a lot of books – not just fiction – and not just in my favorite genre. I believe that it’s a great way to stimulate creativity and open your mind to possibilities. You never know where that next story idea might come from!!!

What message do you hope readers will take away from this book?

 I would love for readers to understand Julia’s journey. She has (as we all do) many preconceived notions about a place she’s never been and people who she’s never met. She’s not happy about visiting tiny Eufaula, Alabama. Yet, when she opens herself up to the possibilities, slows down, and takes in the beauty and love that she’s surrounded with, it changes her life.  In a sentence, Dixie is about finding happiness in the most unexpected of places.

 Could you give me a sneak peek into your next book? Will there be more adventures in store for Julia Sullivan?

I’ve had so many readers ask if there will be a sequel!!!  (Yay & Throws Confetti!!) I would love to catch up with Shug and Julia in the near future. I want to see what happens with their relationship, how Julia handles her new feelings, and whether she’s able to settle down in a small town. I grew to adore these characters – and  feel like there’s so much more to explore with PD, David, Aubie, and even Mary Katherine.  As far as my next project – I  am researching for my next novel, The Pie Lab, which is a real restaurant in Greensboro, Alabama. This story will follow a girl who’s gone off to a big city (like Atlanta or New York) and vows NEVER to come home. She’s forced to return to Greensboro, though, when her romantic relationship falls apart. Since she’s burned a lot of bridges, it will be interesting to see how she makes amends.  The Pie Lab, as a business, is a great concept, as it offers on-the-job training and the owners are very active in the community. Added bonus…the pies are delicious! The Pie Lab has been featured in Southern Living and The New York Times.

Thank you so very much for hosting me on your site. I am indebted to my readers and the wonderful bloggers like you who have supported Dixie.

Thank YOU, Lauren! I also want to thank my pal Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus for making me a part of the blog tour. For more about this fabulous author, check out her website. You can also hear her discuss her new book on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio Show!

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