The holiday season is upon us, and there’s a lot to celebrate! Our new editor introduces herself and shares what’s in store for readers in this issue.
Gigi Sireyjol-Horsley of Paysage Home breathes life into a Raleigh home. With a lasting approach to design that meets the homeowner’s needs and offers focal points of unexpected detail and beauty, Gigi gives the home a classic, elegant style.
�4 A SENSE OF INSPIRATION
Landscape architect Jeff Allen reminds us of autumn’s beauty and inspires us to be present for the changing seasons and what they have to offer.
Learn how an interior designer and a custom kitchen and bath maker teamed up to create their first-ever licensed line. After working together for years, the partnership between Kara Cox and Thompson Traders is natural and beautiful.
PAINTING AN EXPERIENCE
North Carolina native Mary Rountree Moore has always been creative, but it wasn’t until later in her career that she found her artistic calling. Discover what led Mary to abstract landscape paintings and learn how she approaches her work today.
Our Concierge column returns with your insider’s guide to fashionable and fabulous Paris. We have your itinerary for an unforgettable visit to the City of Lights.
This season, stylist and DressCode Style owner Maribeth Geraci implores us to return to dressing for the holidays. So break out the sparkle and the shine — it’s time to party!
THE THRILL OF WRITING
As a public defender in Salisbury, North Carolina, John Hart knew he needed to follow a different path. Seven bestsellers later, John has built a career as one of the top mystery/thriller writers. We chat with him about his latest novel, The Unwilling, for our Book Club feature.
We take you to Raleigh for the Green Chair Project’s Chairity event, where the community rallied together to ensure children have beds of their own and families have furnishings to make a house a home.
Among other titles, Shirlette Ammons is a published poet, an accomplished musician and a television producer. She shares how her upbringing shaped her in distinct ways and how we each have a part to play in shaping our community.
EDITOR from the
Hello and happy holidays, #marvelouslyMOD readers! I’m Meredith Martindale, the new editor of MOD Society, and I’m delighted to be a part of this beautiful, inspiring publication.
A bit about me: I was born and raised in Durham. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, I lived in Charlotte for a few years before returning home. I live in Durham with my husband and family. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been creating, collecting and curating — a thread that weaves through both my personal and professional life. This has led to everything from hosting pop-up shops filled with vintage decor to crowdsourcing a photography campaign to filling notebooks with clippings that inspire me to following in my parents’ footsteps and building my own art collection. Joining the MOD team as Triangle editor seems like a perfect fit and a dream come true.
As I worked on this issue, I was reminded of one of the reasons I am proud to call this area home. We are surrounded by creative, compassionate individuals who want to make the Triangle a better, more beautiful place. I’m excited for you to learn from a few of these people in this issue.
In our home feature, Gigi Sireyjol-Horsley of Paysage Home shows us how to create an element of surprise in our homes through elegant, unexpected touches.
Be transported to other times and places to find inspiration in this issue’s Book Club feature on North Carolina author John Hart and the Concierge column, which takes us to Paris.
Chapel Hill artist Mary Rountree Moore reminds us that it’s never too late to pursue your passions.
Learn how the community rallied together in Raleigh for The Green Chair Project’s annual Chairity event, ensuring local children and families have beds and home furnishings to call their own.
Durham artist and television producer Shirlette Ammons reminds us of the power of stories.
As your new editor, I hope MOD offers readers opportunities to plug in, grow and enjoy beauty, in every article and in every issue.
Lastly, pull out the sparkles and pop some bubbly! We’re celebrating one year of MOD Society in the Triangle. I am excited to see where 2023 takes us together.
Meredith Martindale, editor
UNEXPECTED DETAILSphotography by stephen thrift
AAfter completing a client’s vacation home in Wilmington, Gigi Sireyjol-Horsley, owner and lead interior designer of Paysage Home, was tasked with breathing new life into this Raleigh executive’s primary residence.
This homeowner had looked all over Raleigh for a new abode and had not found anything that felt just right. Then, she had an epiphany: What if she updated her existing home, which she loved, to make it more current and suited to her needs and style?
Gigi was thrilled to take on the task. With beautiful bones such as high ceilings, great natural light and plenty of entertaining space, the home offered a ready canvas for the new design. Gigi worked with the client to keep certain pieces while updating rooms to make them feel fresh, clean and approachable.
Gigi understands the importance of getting to know a client’s needs and preferences. This certainly informs how she approaches interior design today. Though she already knew the client, this project was different because they were not designing from scratch as they did for the client’s vacation home. Instead, Gigi was asked to redo existing living spaces.
For this Raleigh residence, Gigi began with the kitchen. Situated in the middle of the home, the room serves as an informal gathering place for family and guests. Instead of a complete renovation, Gigi refinished the cabinets and island, transforming what was once a dark space into a bright, welcoming focal point.
Gigi applied unique touches throughout the kitchen. She says, “Because we didn’t completely renovate the space and chose to refresh the strong bones of the room, we pushed the limit on how to create the unexpected. The hardware is like jewelry. The sink is lined with intricate mother of pearl detailing — a work of art.”
The Regina Andrew pendants offer a fresh take on lighting and pair nicely with brass sink faucets, features that won’t go out of style anytime soon.
“We wanted the eating nook to have room to breathe,” Gigi says. “The oversized chairs offer comfort and functionality. Because they are on wheels, they bring motion to the space, and allow for a more inviting, interactive experience in the kitchen.”
A textured wallpaper in the client’s favorite color ties together the kitchen, dining room and entry. The kitchen opened the door to the rest of the home’s updates, so Gigi proceeded room by room, bringing everything together with a timeless, elegant style.
Stepping through the double-door entrance of the home, Gigi played off the high ceilings and the atrium feel of the entryway and saw an immediate vision — an oversized, antique chandelier. She says, “The tall, open space called for something dramatic. Not everyone is willing to install that type of statement piece, but now has become a beautiful first impression.”
“We wanted the eating nook to have room to breathe,” Gigi says. “The oversized chairs offer comfort and functionality. Because they are on wheels, they bring motion to the space, and allow for a more inviting, interactive experience in the kitchen.”
From the entrance of the home, the eye is naturally drawn to the dining room. Gigi designed this room around the Thibaut wallpaper which is meant to look like a watercolor painting. It dominates the space and becomes art itself. “We designed with intention,” she says. “With no other art on the walls, the wallpaper has room to stand out.”
For a couple who host a lot of guests — and oftentimes multiple generations — having a table that is long and wide enough for entertaining was important. The Chaddock dining table was the perfect solution. The table is 94 inches long and seats up to 12 people.
The homeowner wanted to use a vitrine she discovered while decorating her Wilmington home. Gigi incorporated it into the dining room, letting it stand alone for maximum impact. Clean yet elegant, the piece holds family heirlooms and artful barware. The soft lighting allows for crystal pieces to shine. Rather than competing with a chandelier above the table, a flush mount light allows the intricate ceiling to have its moment in the spotlight, too. For balance, two demilunes flank either side of the windows that open to the patio and pool. For Gigi, the sconces are a way of bringing nature inside.
Details incorporated throughout the home are designed to catch one’s attention at different times. Take, for example, the dining room chairs. According to Gigi, “With aqua-and-cream brushed velvet fabric, the dining room chairs blend into the space until it’s time to sit down. After touching them, you realize they are something special.”
Other details have both functionality and fun in mind. For instance, a deer-shaped side table adds artistic whimsy while serving a specific purpose.
“When you’re entertaining, you want to be able to place bottles and glasses somewhere that can be easily accessible,” Gigi says. “Why not also make it interesting? The animal is so elegant. For a home in the middle of the woods, it’s thoughtful, too. Somehow it just makes sense for a lovely deer to hold the champagne.”
Gigi had a unique vision for the two remaining indoor living spaces. Drawn to the masculine energy of the library, she wanted to incorporate opposing energy in the nearby sitting room. To do so, she used delicate pinks and creams to create an intimate, feminine sitting area.
For homeowners who frequently travel, Gigi incorporated custom, artificial floral arrangements throughout the home, including those in the sitting room. The arrangements are made of foam and rubber. This allows them to bend and move, and they can be arranged differently than flowers with straight, plastic stems. Because of their composition, they don’t collect dust either.
In fact, flowers have always been important to Gigi. “My dad was especially fond of fresh flowers,” she says. “As a young girl, I
Drawn to the masculine energy of the library, Gigi wanted to incorporate opposing energy in the nearby sitting room. To do so, she used delicate pinks and creams to create an intimate, feminine sitting area.
remember going out with him to buy flowers for my mother. He would always look at the stems, searching for ones that weren’t straight — he wanted flowers that had movement. Each week, we would bring home flowers for every room of our house. To this day, flowers always make me think of my dad.”
Across the entryway and into the library, the eye is drawn to an animal portrait above the fireplace. It’s from a collection of paintings inspired by the late 18th and early 19th century era of the Dandies, men such as Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron who took great pride in their appearance and often took it to extremes.
“Contrast helps us to see detail,” says Gigi. She incorporated more contrast by adding a delicate standing lamp. “The pink tone of the crystals gives this room something soft and feminine. And it helps the rooms talk to each other,” she adds.
Heading outside, Gigi incorporated something totally different and unusual — light up, blow up, hot pink furniture. The best part? The pieces are easy to install, easy to maintain and definitely not something you see everyday.
Seeing the home in full, it’s clear that Gigi has a specific approach for lighting. “I don’t like lighting to be functional and nothing else,” she says. “The game between beauty and functionality with lighting is what makes it interesting.”
Her approach to sourcing is specific, too. Most of the furniture Gigi incorporates into homes is from North Carolina, while accessories and details are primarily from France. This home is no exception.
“We are the state of furniture — I believe in furniture from North Carolina,” she says.
Gigi seeks to offer a lasting approach to design that meets the homeowner’s needs and offers focal points of unexpected detail and beauty. Whether in Wilmington or in the Triangle, Gigi designs “spaces can reflect the beauty of the moment, both now and in 10 years.”
–Meredith Martindale, editor
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill Vol. 1 No. 6
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Jennifer Bringle Editor@yourMODsociety.com EDITOR Meredith Martindale Triangle.Editor@yourMODsociety.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Jeff Allen Maribeth Geraci Autumn Mowery COPY EDITOR Jennifer Weaver-Spencer PHOTOGRAPHERS Aura Marzouk Stephen Thrift LAYOUT AND DESIGN Stallard Studio DIGITAL AGENCY The Buzz Effect ADVERTISING Advertising@yourMODsociety.com
MOD Society Magazine is published six times a year by MSM Media LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. ©2022.
This fall was a particularly inspiring season for me. I saw a heightened display of trees. As part of the background, they provide well-needed shade in the summer and begin their journey into winter with a stunning abundance of color. Summer fragrances of gardenias and roses transitioned to tea olive and elaeagnus. As the leaves fell, the sunlight poked through the branches, providing a welcome warmth on the chilly days. The aroma of smoke from fireplaces filled the air. There was a new silence as the insects began their hibernation and birds migrated to warmer regions, but a new noise emerged as you walk upon leaf-laden paths, sounding the crunch of crisp fallen foliage. Cool season herbs such as parsley emerge, along with broccoli, kales and cabbages, engaging all the senses in the garden.
Many people travel to the North Carolina mountains to witness this beauty. I am one of those who loves seeing the vast views of the rolling hillside filled with trees of red, orange, yellow and green. This study of natural composition is a wonderful source to draw from and incorporate into designs for my clients.
I strive to design landscapes which develop a good relationship between nature and humans. Ornamental trees, groundcovers and perennial and evergreen shrubs can provide an array of colors, flowers and fruit.
Camellias are a consistent bloom every fall and often we see a few remaining hydrangea blooms hanging on for one more effort. It is important to understand what colors you want in your garden throughout the fall and have a variety of color, just as you think about your spring and summer color palettes. It is also important to make sure the colors you select do not clash with your home.
As we are beholden to the ephemeral laws of nature, I was pleasantly delighted with this season’s result. This year has been a great fall season to capture our landscapes resplendent in autumnal color and form.– Jeff Allen, Landscape Architect jalallc.com
An ancient oak tree stands with the house and provides both foreground and framing the house form the street.Holly hedges, dried hydrangea blossoms and russet mums planted in cast iron urns make for a wonderful fall display against this classic home. backdrop of trees in full fall color adds a sense of drama and sets off the brick wall and boxwood globes. Camellias take the prize and frame an iron gate against a colorful backdrop of fall color. A boxwood garden contains fallen leaves, traditional urns and planters filled with seasonal pansies and kale.
When interior designer Kara Cox first met the team from custom kitchen and bath makers Thompson Traders, she felt an instant kinship with the family-owned company.
“I loved the fact that they were a family business,” she says. “My husband’s part of a family business and we’re both entrepreneurs, and so that really spoke to us.”
The company’s craftsmanship and artistry spoke to Kara as well. And after working with Thompson Traders on projects across North Carolina — including her own home — partnering with the company for her first licensed line felt like a no-brainer.
“I’d never designed a product line before, but I knew they were a family I could trust,” Kara says. “I think we both felt comfortable working together for several years. This was a first for both of us. They had never had a licensed collection. I had never had a licensed collection. We just said, ‘Let’s try it and see how it goes.’”
The result of their collaboration is the Quintana Collection by Kara Cox. The line includes a showstopper range hood, bathtub, vanity and five different sink styles, ranging from a small bar/prep sink to a generous farmhouse kitchen sink.
The line comes in a two-tone metal finish, with satin brass against burnished nickel. Smooth, rounded edges give the metal a softer, more organic feel inspired by both Kara’s travels and the Mexican heritage of Thompson Traders’ founder. A vacation home in Tulum, Mexico, filled with softly rounded edges sparked Kara’s creative process and helped guide her design for the collection.
“When I stayed in this home, it really just started my wheels turning,” she says. “Kitchens and baths are places where everything is very hard, linear and cold. How can I create something that feels more organic, feminine and soft, even though it’s made of metal? I came back with these ideas and designs — the range hood and vanity first — with this organic shape where everything is curved, soft and completely rounded.”
To bring Kara’s vision to life, Thompson Traders took special care to ensure every piece was crafted and engineered to be not only beautiful, but also functional. The company specializes in metal and incorporates traditional metal smithing techniques to create a distinctive look.
“The hood is completely oval. The sink has all rounded corners. Even where the metal seams are, they took the time and precision to round all of the edges and seams in everything,” Kara says. “It’s really a collection that I think doesn’t exist anywhere else. And it was an incredible process to work together with them.”
Kara chose the two-tone finish based on current trends and frequent requests from clients. She says the finishes make the pieces more versatile.
“The question we get asked the most by clients is how to mix finishes in a house, and that is such a popular look right now,” she says. “I wanted to create a product that did that for people and allowed them some creativity in how they’re mixing brass and silver tones together. Everything is a burnished nickel and satin brass mixed metal, and it allows you to go in either direction with the other finishes in the room.”
Kara says the collaborative process of creating this collection made her first licensed line a joy to create. And as the Quintana collection grows, she’s excited to continue that creative partnership with Thompson Traders.
“What’s so beautiful is the collaborative partnership that we’ve created,” she says. “They’re a company that’s always willing to try anything. I brought them a product that hasn’t been created before, it wasn’t anywhere else in the market, and they spent the time and energy to get it right and make sure the details were right.”– Jennifer Bringle, editor-in-chief
“I wanted to create a product that... allowed them some creativity in how they’re mixing brass and silver tones together.”
After you have seen a Mary Rountree Moore painting, you can spot one anywhere. Her signature style of abstract landscapes using a natural palette makes an impression.
“My mother was a portrait artist, but first and foremost, she was a corporate wife and a mother,” Mary says. “Her painting was very much a hobby. But she was highly sought after for her portraits; they were done in pastels and had a very personal touch to them. She made space in our dining room to paint when she could. Growing up, I thought that’s what every mother did.”
After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with an arts education degree, Mary moved to New York City and became an assistant to two fashion designers. It didn’t take long before she replaced them as a full designer herself. Eventually, Mary and her family moved back down south to the historic Chapel Hill home where she still lives more than 40 years later.
Back in North Carolina, Mary worked for Peaches and Cream, designing children’s wear. She later designed menswear and surfwear with a North Carolina manufacturer. Looking back, she always had an interest in fashion, but she never thought it would embody so much of her career.
“I really believe those creative genes get passed down through your DNA,” she says. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been painting or coloring or drawing. I spent my very young years making paper dolls and the clothing for them. I learned how to sew at a very young age. I never thought, ‘I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up.’ I just loved doing it.”
Out of the blue in 1990, Mary received a call from a friend who happened to be an owner of Vietri, a local company making hand-crafted Italian dinnerware, servingware and linens. They needed last-minute help styling a photo shoot.
“They were overwhelmed, so I volunteered to help at the shoot,” Mary says. “Shortly thereafter, I was offered a position as the design coordinator and began designing pieces for Vietri.”
By the time Mary retired from Vietri eight years later, her boys were grown and on their own, and she was in the right place at the right time to pour into what she really loved: painting. She’s been painting full-time now for over 24 years. For Mary, this means a few hours a day, four days a week.
“I really like to push the edge of abstraction,” she says. “In addition to large work, I like to do small work that is totally non-representational, just about the materials. Or, it’s just me having fun, expressing an experience in the studio.”
Nature drives her aesthetic and color palette. She’s drawn to greens and golds, the colors of the sky and the seasonality of it all.
“I REALLY LIKE TO PUSH THE EDGE OF ABSTRACTION.”
“The smallest thing can inspire me to paint — a tiny leaf, the light on that leaf, the way the water in the ocean hits the sand. I keep lots of art books around as well as many photos from my travels and find great inspiration in them. Often, I’m inspired by just the tiniest portion of something.”
When it’s time to enter her light-filled studio and prepare to paint, Mary has several rituals that form an experience all their own. Allowing creativity to happen is a skill she’s been developing for decades. Mindfulness matters.
“I have to be in the right state of mind. I have to be relaxed, and I can’t have anything else weighing on me,” she says. “It took me a very long time to figure out that no one else cares whether my dishwasher was empty or not. I’ve learned to prioritize. If it matters to me, and it does, I make it happen. There is always something in the way unless you make creativity a priority.”
Music helps Mary reach this place. She often plays Mozart in the morning and Van Morrison and Coldplay in the afternoon.
“There’s one piece I love to listen to first – it’s called ‘God Be in my Head’ by John Rutter,” she says. “I have a recording of it from years ago by the Duke Chapel Choir. It’s a soul-reaching sort of prayer, and I love playing it when I’m getting started.”
After she’s ready to paint, Mary establishes the composition and the palette. Next, she creates several thumbnail sketches. These sketches are strewn across notebooks and journals. Then, it’s time to paint.
Mary has exhibited work in numerous galleries across the country. Currently, she is represented at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte and Blueprint Gallery in Dallas. She also works with independent art consultants and with individuals who find her online.
“Social media put me on the map. I also find a lot of inspiration from Instagram. It is very visual — a perfect medium for artists.”
One of her most unique commissions to date was for the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville. She was hired to create two medium-sized paintings that were then digitally photographed, enlarged and transferred onto paper to cover a huge wall.
“It was such a fun process and totally new for me,” she says. “I can’t wait to see them in person someday.”
Mary recently delivered a series of small abstract landscapes to her grandson’s school as part of their ongoing local artist exhibits. She’s preparing to send more work to Hidell Brooks Gallery and Blue Print Gallery, and she will ship one completed piece that is currently being stored in her studio as a surprise Christmas gift for the collector’s wife.
Though this was not Mary’s first career, it seems to be the one she was always meant to do.
“I feel so lucky to be able to do what I do,” she says. “I wish everyone could feel this way. Painting is what grounds me as a person.”– Meredith Martindale, editor
Paris, the city of love — the romantic essence of the French capital is undeniable. The allure of the Parisian lifestyle? Delectable food and wine, deep-rooted history, breathtaking architecture, head-turning fashion and vibrant culture at every corner all coexist to create a distinctive charm that can only be described as having a certain je ne sais quoi
With a plethora of luxury hotels, there is no scarcity of sumptuous accommodations. Consistently listed as one of the best hotels in Paris, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée is a 5-star hotel of grandeur. Recognized as the backdrop in the series finale of “Sex and The City,” this iconic hotel boasts a mixture of regency and art deco decor and attracts the most glamorous of clientele. And while in Paris, do as the French do: Make an appointment at Le Studio de Parfum for a custom experience. Founded by an epicurean perfumer and perfume chemist in 2006, Le Studio de Parfum became a pioneer in tailor-made fragrance workshops. Passionate perfumers guide you through the creative process and awaken your senses with more than 180 notes of varying scents. During this process, you go on a journey of memories and emotions to perfect your fragrance and leave with your own personally curated scent.
Pair that custom fragrance with a bit of haute couture with a visit to iconic French fashion house Balenciaga’s new couture store. Shoppers at this exclusive boutique can purchase looks fresh off the runway, giving them insider access to couture, a universe that is otherwise closed-off and inaccessible.
A day of shopping will certainly pique the appetite, and as one of the world’s culinary capitals, Paris offers plenty to satisfy the palate. Originally birthed in New York City, Soho House is a private hotel and social club reserved exclusively for creative minds that just opened a Paris location. With a membership, gain access to the celebrated international fare at Le Cabaret du Soho House restaurant. Or head to La Maison du Caviar near the Champs-Elysées. The eatery’s handpicked caviar served on a bowl of ice makes for a marvelous wind-down. With its lavish fashion, opulent accommodations and delectable food and wine, Paris calls to the traveler seeking an escape from the ordinary.— Autumn Mowery
Since many of us have been out of practice accepting invitations and attending big social events, I thought I’d write about dress codes for the upcoming holiday season.
The range for appropriate dress for any given occasion has grown wide. This wide range can make getting dressed for these much-anticipated evenings quite confusing. Before our unanticipated social sabbatical, getting dressed for special occasions had already gotten a little blurry. Maybe it began when people started using clever dress codes on their invitations, such as “casual elegant,” “dress to impress” or “bring on the bling,” to name a few. Whatever happened to “black tie,” “formal” or “cocktail attire?”
Let’s take a look at one of these dress codes: Casual elegant. This is a contradiction, because according to etiquette for invitations, if it says casual, it means there is no dress code and you should just be comfortable. Well, that’s enough to have us all staring into our closets for hours.
Fast-forward from our long dress-up dry spell to the 2022 holiday dressing season, and I will not be a clothes whisperer about this special time of year. “Black tie,” “formal” or “cocktail attire” on an invite sets a mood for an event. It immediately brings a level of excitement.
How often do we get really dressed up anymore? It’s a celebratory ritual, and it’s worth the effort. Pull out your cocktail party clothes! It’s time for sparkle, shine and elegance. I’d even be so bold as to say if you get a holiday party invite, ignore the dress code, and just go all out!
This year, some things that remain consistent are what’s in style to wear. Sequins remain a mainstay, as does satin, velvet and the colors black and navy. What’s new are one shoulder tops and dresses, full-circle skirts, deep V-necks and a lot of bright colors.
In closing, I’d like to throw in a bit of fashion history, which I always enjoy. Black tie began as a recognized dress code back in 1885, and it literally meant a loosening of the tie among the well-to-do. It was swapping a tailcoat for a smoking jacket with matching trousers. This was considered dressing down for those times.
This year, the holidays are especially festive, so show up wearing your party best!
– Maribeth Geraci, DressCode Style www.dresscodestyle.us
ThrillTHE WRITING OF
John Hart’s writing career is a story of second chances. While studying for his master’s in accounting at UNCChapel Hill, John wrote his first novel — which never saw the light of day. But he refused to give up and penned a second book while in law school.
“Both of them widely unpublished, as they should be,” he says with a laugh. “They were very much teeth-cutting exercises. But I could tell that I was improving — I was gaining a little confidence that I could actually do it.”
Fast-forward a few years, and John was working in Salisbury, North Carolina —where he also spent a big chunk of his childhood — as a criminal defense attorney. He’d been in the role for a few years and had started to tire of defending people he didn’t really believe were innocent. At the same time, John and his wife had a baby, and when he thought about expanding their family in the future, he realized he would either have to choose between committing to his law career or giving writing one last shot.
“So with my wife’s blessing, that’s what I did. I left the practice and gave myself a year to write what became The King of Lies, my first novel, and I finished it in 11½ months,” he says.
After finishing the book, John went back to work as an attorney and began searching for a literary agent to represent his book. That search took four years, but he finally found the right agent. In 2005, he signed a contract to publish his first novel.
The King of Lies, a thriller set in Salisbury, went on to become a bestseller, setting the tone for the remainder of John’s career. Since then, he has written six more bestselling thrillers, many featuring places in North Carolina and drawing on his experience as a criminal defense attorney.
For his most recent book, The Unwilling, which was recently released in paperback, John marked his first foray into writing about the past. He set the story against the backdrop of Charlotte during the Vietnam War.
“I’d always wanted to write something set entirely in the past, and I hate the term ‘historical novel,’ because I remember the 1970s, but I was young,” he says. “The book is set in 1972, and I was seven in that year, but I remembered Vietnam and people going to Vietnam. And I wanted to write about the effect of war on people at the time.”
The book tells the story of a family scarred by the war. One brother was killed in battle and his twin brother, Jason,
returns home bearing the emotional detritus of what he experienced in Vietnam. Jason struggles with civilian life, landing in prison for a stint and turning to alcohol and drugs as an escape. The youngest brother who is about to graduate high school feels caught between his brothers and idolizes both the fallen soldier and his troubled twin.
John took inspiration for the Jason character from the true story of the Mỹ Lai massacre, an especially dark moment in the Vietnam War during which American soldiers executed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, Jr., along with two other Americans, tried to stop the massacre and save dozens of civilians. John wove bits of that valor into Jason in The Unwilling
“(The story of Hugh Thompson, Jr.,) is an utterly remarkable story of unflinching courage — physical and moral,” he says. “And I’d always wanted to try to write a character that had that sense of unwavering strength and knowledge of right and wrong.”
Another important component of The Unwilling’s story is the tenuous yet ultimately loving relationship of the brothers with their father, a police detective. Troubled family bonds are often depicted in John’s books, but he’s quick to admit those familial rifts are works of fiction.
“People think I must come from a broken home because I write about dysfunctional families, but I find family endlessly fascinating,” he says. “And it’s tied into another conviction I have that as a writer, this is all part of making characters real. If you make the characters believable, even if their actions are a little bit over the top, if you ground them enough that they’re real, readers happily go along for the ride.”
After taking some time off to care for his mother, who recently passed away, John says he’s working on his next book, a novel set during an apocalyptic time inspired by events such as the global pandemic. And like most of his books, this novel will likely incorporate references to Salisbury, which is not only his hometown, but in many ways, a lifelong muse.
“I believe firmly as a storyteller that universal elements of good storytelling don’t require a setting like LA or Hong Kong,” he says. “I think you can tell universal stories in small towns. So it started off because I knew Salisbury, and I understood it. And now, honestly, it’s just what I see when I close my eyes and start writing.”
– Jennifer Bringle, editor-in-chief
Green Chair Project
The Green Chair Project’s Chairity event, held September 14-17 at their Raleigh office, celebrated the 10th year of the organization’s annual fundraiser. The signature event was refreshed and expanded to include more than 30 interior designers who created a showcase of room designs and re-imagined chairs. Home furnishing manufacturers and retailers donated items that were showcased by designers in their room creations, and all were for sale throughout the multi-day event. All proceeds benefited Green Chair’s mission of “Furnishing Homes. Changing Lives.”
“The most meaningful part of home is not just the roof over our heads,” says Jackie Craig, CEO, The Green Chair Project. “It’s about the things that we fill it with that meet our basic human needs, feed our souls and nourish our lives.”
Green Chair will provide more than 2,000 children with beds of their own this year, as well as families with the furnishings they need to help turn houses into homes.photography by catherine nguyen photography and spice collective
Multi-medium storyteller Shirlette Ammons cannot remember a time in her life when she wasn’t creative.
She grew up with a large family in the rural township of Beautancus in eastern North Carolina, and she was also rarely alone.
“We came from working-class people, so we didn’t have a lot of things,” she says. “But I grew up with a lot of open land, and there was always lots of family around — my twin sister and a bunch of cousins — so we had unlimited opportunities to be imaginative. That’s a part of who I am today.”
Shirlette’s childhood is marked by a shared sense of community with rich memories of performance and the spoken word.
“We made up songs and performed them for an audience of corn fields when I was five. We grew up in church and in the choir. We had to remember and recite Easter speeches, so the ability to store words and recall them has always been a part of my creative language.”
Shirlette left home to attend college at North Carolina State University. She then traveled by train from Charlotte to Palm Springs and traveled throughout California before returning to North Carolina.
“The cool thing about understanding the value of a place like where I come from — that’s so rich in history and so concentrated — is that the more I was able to travel, the closer I felt to my own memories and stories. I was learning how to better tell my own stories and the story of my people by getting away from it and seeing it with fresh eyes.”
A decade ago, Shirlette landed back in the Triangle to run an afterschool program at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, but she noticed she was spending more and more time in Durham for arts happenings. This ultimately led to her moving to Durham, where she lives now with her wife, Laura Ritchie, and their dog.
“It just makes sense here,” she says. “I’ve built a community around art and activism in Durham. And it’s this great nucleus that you can easily radiate from.”
It is hard to define Shirlette’s professional life and career with a single title. She wears many hats, has mastered many forms, and leans on each of these talents — and other people — as she engages in new work.
“At my core, I am a storyteller,” she says. “I’m grateful to have many mediums at my disposal. The more tools you have in your arsenal, the more equipped you are to do anything.”
For Shirlette, her first medium was poetry. She has two published collections of poetry. She started writing music because it allowed her to represent complex emotions and to participate in a more collaborative process. Shirlette has toured internationally, released two solo albums, one collaborative album with rock band, The Dynamite Brothers, one album with her former band, Mosadi Music, collaborated on many other records and has another album on the way, “Spectacles,” to be released in early 2023. The entire album is a musing on something that has forever been on Shirlette’s mind.
“I explore ‘Spectacles’ like being an identical twin and constantly having people stare,” she says. “I explore the more systemic gaze of whiteness. When you’re on stage, and when you want the gaze or when you want to be looked at as a performer, I’m asking for your attention. I’m asking for your eyes. But when I’m walking down the street as a Black, queer person in this body, I’m not asking for that. So how do you differentiate between the two?”
The process for creating her latest album was different this time around.
“I’M GRATEFUL TO HAVE MANY MEDIUMS AT MY DISPOSAL. THE MORE TOOLS YOU HAVE IN YOUR ARSENAL, THE MORE EQUIPPED YOU ARE TO DO ANYTHING.”
“I started working on ‘Spectacles’ during COVID,” she says. “It was a predominantly solo process — just me, my lyrics and my mini keyboard making beats. I didn’t have anything to distract me besides my dog, so I went insular for a few weeks, which was cool. I recruited other people to help after I had all the demos.”
Collaboration is woven throughout the album. In the opening, you’ll hear a collage of voices, including Shirlette’s twin sister, Shorlette, and her niece. Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, Mavis Poole and G Yamazawa have vocals on the album. Rapper and activist Mykki Blanco, poet Fred Moten and New Orleans-based Nigerian chef Tunde Way also make appearances.
More than anything, after “Spectacles” is released, Shirlette hopes it can be a conversation starter. Like or dislike is not the real measure of her work — it’s critical conversations. If it leads to people listening, thinking critically and engaging with the music, she will be satisfied.
Her next medium, television production, came by surprise. Shirlette was approached by an old friend and the founder and director of Markay Media, Cynthia Hill. Cynthia approached Shirlette to help as a producer on “A Chef’s Life,” an Emmy award-winning, documentary-style television series detailing the life of Chef Vivian Howard and the local ingredients at her Kinston farm-to-table restaurant, Chef and the Farmer. At first, Shirlette didn’t know what this opportunity would look like, but at its core, she knew it was just another way of telling stories.
“Cynthia and Vivian are both really committed to and interested in telling the stories of eastern North Carolina,” Shirlette says. “I hadn’t seen anyone advocating for the stories of our home that I inherently know was a very special place. It was cool to be able to revisit some of those stories and food memories. It felt very natural to me.”
By being on set, Shirlette honed her storytelling skills in surprising ways.
“One of the things I learned from Cynthia and that experience was how to be a patient listener,” she says. “I learned not to overcrowd and to let awkward silences exist. Something beautiful can come out of that if you just wait and listen and allow the silence to reveal what it needs to reveal.”
Shirlette then worked on PBS’ “Somewhere South.” She also co-directed and co-produced a 30-minute PBS special on chef Ricky Moore, “The Hook.” Most
recently, Shirlette came full circle when she blended video production and music by serving as impact producer for “Stay Prayed Up,” a documentary about Lena May “Mother” Perry and The Branchettes as they prepare to record their first fully live Black gospel album.
“The primary reason I wanted to work on ‘Stay Prayed Up’ is because it’s a particular brand of gospel music that I grew up on,” Shirlette says. “Mother Perry, the primary person in the film, is from Newton Grove, North Carolina, close to where I’m from. The story got me back in touch with the music I grew up listening to.”
Community has been a deeply formative part of Shirlette for as long as she can remember. Now, she has a charge for the broader community.
“Everyone has a role to play — not everybody can be the person creating,” she says. “Not everybody has the time or resources or skills to build. But everyone should ask themselves, ‘What is the role I can play in making sure this current creative culture remains thriving? What can I do to make sure we don’t lose access to the creativity of our community?’ Contribute according to your capacity. Just don’t do nothing. There’s always a place for everyone.”
– Meredith Martindale, editor
“I LEARNED NOT TO OVERCROWD AND TO LET AWKWARD SILENCES EXIST. SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL CAN COME OUT OF THAT...”