How a Jersey Girl Became a Southern Writer

nj and ncI was recently invited to write a guest post for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance blog, and I wrote about my transition from Jersey Girl to Southern Writer. You can read the post here , and I offer it with apologies to everyone in New Jersey, especially my family, my friends and my agent. You know I love you all (ya’ll? youse guys?), but it’s too darn cold up there and finding ‘shrimp and grits’ on a menu in New Jersey is almost as hard as finding pork roll here in North Carolina. (I say “almost” because there are so many Jerseyites down here that you can find pork roll in the grocery store, though I’ve yet to see it in a restaurant.)

It’s strange to be a part of two worlds (two and a quarter, since I left a piece of heart in San Diego as well). I feel fortunate to have experienced such different parts of the country, but it does make for a bit of an identity crisis at times.  Am I the Italian kid with the out-of-control curly black hair who knew every exit on the Turnpike and every diner within a twenty mile radius of home, who took the bus to Greenwich Village just for a cappuccino, was afraid of the neighborhood “dawgs”, and made out under the boardwalk? Or am I the auburn-haired woman who understands the difference between the barbecue in Eastern and Western North Carolina, knows to order her iced tea “unsweet” instead of “unsweetened”, hasn’t worn boots in years, has actually tasted peanuts in Coke, and doesn’t stumble over the town name Fuquay-Varina?

I occasionally envy those writers who have lived in North Carolina all their lives. They are so grounded in their setting. They know the history, the language, and above all, the people with a depth I’ll never be able to achieve. But I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the two worlds–north and south–for anything.  I’m a Jersey girl who became a Southern writer, and I’ve loved every minute of the journey.


  1. Rob Lopresti on September 6, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Ah, memories, Diane. When I moved out to Washington state I was saddened to find no pork roll. (My vegetarian wife was not.)

    About a decade later a tiny luncheonette opened, featuring “New Jersey ham.” “Is that Taylor Pork Roll?” I asked. It was. I was very happy until they closed a year later. Not enough New Jerseyans around here.

  2. Diane Chamberlain on September 6, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Too bad for the tastebuds, Rob, but better for the arteries. 🙂

  3. brenda on September 7, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I think it is fantastic to live various places and experience what is in each. My son has live on each coast and many places in between…my daughter has lived small town and now city…and others…I have had the cold north…the hot south…the places change us-I still have the combined accents…It also shows in the writing…of so many authors…I love that…Never heard of a pork roll by the way, but then I am a vegetarian…Rob’s wife is lucky-Wash. State caters to veggies (as does CA). My area does not and S. Carolina certainly did not…

  4. Karen Lefler on September 8, 2009 at 10:25 am

    I know the feeling, after 20 moves (most of them across the country from NJ to Ca to Ontario, Canada, & back & forth, including Fl, Nv, Idaho) My Jersey Girl accent went to Canadian “eh” to Calif, & to Florida “y’all”. Try that combination ! Tell Rob that he can get Taylor’s pork roll at the Pike St Market in Seattle or go to the NJ Pork Roll web site & they will ship it !

  5. Diane Chamberlain on September 8, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Aha, see that Rob? You have to really want it, though. When I first moved to California at age 20, my then-husband (from Trenton) and I tried frying bologna to see if we could make it taste like pork roll (we couldn’t). Karen, you’ve been all over the place!

  6. Margo on September 9, 2009 at 8:32 am

    LOL Diane!!…I’ve never heard of pork roll but bologna, yes!! (-O:

  7. brenda on September 12, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Although I am a vegetarian (almost 20 years now), I grew up on fried bologna…pronounced back then bolognie…ha ha–funny how much we all have in common…

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