Imagine a job where stand-up paddleboarding and hang-gliding along the coast of the Outer Banks is part of the fringe benefits. Or try to fathom getting paid to sample Asheville’s vast craft brews and explore the Blue Ridge Parkway. Doesn’t sound half bad, huh?
Welcome to the life of local writer Jason Frye.
Originally from West Virginia, the Marshall University graduate found his way to Wilmington in the early aughts after teaching middle school in Virginia for a brief stint. He went to graduate school at UNCW, but after finishing landed a coveted role as community member and NC cheerleader. The freelance writer has been assigned pieces across a wide array of topics for local and regional publications, such as Wrightsville Beach Magazine, North and South Brunswick magazines, Salt, The Raleigh News and Observer, alongside visitor sites and guides galore. He’s a food writer for Star News, as well as Our State, and he also frequently pens food blogs.
“The first story I wrote [locally] was a piece on Bald Head Island for North Brunswick Magazine’s second or third issue,” Frye says. “Looking back, it was a wreck. It took way too long to write; I had no confidence in what I put on paper, I had no faith that it was any good. I had no idea how to do this for a living. But then I wrote it and Justin Williams assigned another story, so I must’ve done something right.”
Frye’s submersion into the freelance world has been eye-opening. He initially thought about doing outdoor adventure writing yet realized his athleticism on the coast wasn’t exactly up to par. “I’m not a surfer, sailor or diver, so that was out if I wanted to live in Wilmington,” Frye tells. “What we did have was a great landscape and a growing core of great restaurants. I started seeking and pitching stories that let me write about food, chefs, beer, wine, tourism, and those sorts of things. Over time, I developed a solid portfolio and began writing for bigger outlets.”
In college, Frye and his buddies often held pig pickin’s, wherein slow-cooking a hog all day or night served a juicier taste of pride when biting into the tender, pulled swine. Moving to NC meant Frye’s love for barbecue grew more rapidly. He had written about the Southern delicacy and knew of the numerous societies and organizations which allowed normal folks to become barbecue kings and queens as certified judges. Last year, Frye became among the ranks.
“My favorite barbecue in NC is tough; you’re trying to get me in trouble with this one,” he quips of the inevitable question: “So where do you prefer to buy your NC ‘que?” “Style-wise, I find the Lexington honeymonkeries to be doing great things to bring the vinegar Eastern NC and tomato Western NC sauces together,” he says. “As for restaurants, I love Luella’s in Asheville, The Pit in Raleigh, and in Wilmington, Parchies is awesome, as is Duke’s Old South Barbecue in Leland.
Essentially, Frye’s thirst for new discoveries, from flavor profiles to exciting excursions, fuels his love for writing. He finds the best assignments come in traveling to new destinations and talking to various people who put out extraordinary services, experiences, and offer wholesome community-building. He credits these citizens the true soul of NC—“artists and musicians and farmers and everyday Joes who have an interesting story to tell,” Frye describes.
Last year, he found an ad on Raleigh’s Craigslist for a company looking for a travel writer to share insights, tips, and highlights about the best places to see and experiences to endure across our state. From attractions to accommodations, restaurants to bars, breweries to wineries, museums and more, Moon Publications needed a writer to traverse every region in NC to put out their 2014 travel guide. Frye applied, and after a few phone interviews, he landed one of his biggest assignments to date.
“I traveled to every region in the state and spent a few days there to research in person,” he explains. “Then I worked with convention and visitor’s bureaus in each area and [depended on] friends to [help] fill in the gaps.”
Because handbook-writing proves more tedious than a one-shot profile assignment or restaurant review, Frye constantly researched areas for their calendar of events in high and low seasons, as well as found the popular and off-the-beaten-path spots he thought travelers would most be interested in enjoying. “Asheville’s phenomenal,” he states, “and I have a number of great bars and restaurants to go to when I’m there. But I’d say two favorites stand out: Winston-Salem and Durham. Both have great, growing food scenes, they’re easy to get to from Wilmington, and I’ve always had a good time in both cities.”
Along with his wife, Lauren, they spent a great deal of 2013 discovering their state with newfound eyes. They received personal, behind-the-scenes guidance to the Biltmore Estate and Harrah’s Cherokee in the western part of NC. “I loved getting to drive along the Outer Banks with my wife on her first visit there, too,” Frye says.
Despite the never-ending options of intriguing destinations, it’s the beautiful landscape of our state that captivates Frye most. He says practically everything can be enjoyed even more from nature—“the beach, the sunrise over the marsh, and the tidal rivers call folks to the coast. Busy city life and buzzing art scenes draw others to cities like Raleigh and Charlotte. The slow country life brings people to small Piedmont towns. Fall’s color show, the chance of winter snow and the stunning Blue Ridge bring others to the mountains. No matter where you go, NC’s best asset is all around you.”
His love for Wilmington grows daily, too. Aside from the visible perks—the beautiful shoreline, the rich history, the culturally vibrant arts scene, the culinary offerings—it’s the camaraderie he and Lauren continually build with others that remain so important. “There’s a sense of town pride here that is stronger than in other parts of the state,” he explains. “When you tell someone you’re from Wilmington, they always have a fond memory of a visit here.”
Frye will be signing copies of his Moon travel guides this weekend, including one focused completely on the coast, at Barnes and Noble in Mayfaire Town Center. He also will offer sage advice and tips on trekking across the state this summer, dishing on a few fave spots to eat, grab a drink and catch a show.
“My top advice: Ask yourself what you love to do above all other things,” he dispenses. “We have places to do that. Cities and towns with amazing food. Wineries galore. Art museums and galleries to suit all tastes. Mountains to climb and waves to surf and golf courses to play. Quiet places. Loud places. Slow and fast places. Whatever you’re passionate about, we have a place for you.”
Look for Frye’s Moon road trip guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway to be released soon, too. When the time comes to update the travel guide for NC in 2016, he says he will delve deeper into the Queen City of Charlotte, the up-and-coming hip town of Durham, along with Chapel Hill and Greensboro, and those “far-flung rural areas” which inevitably pump rich blood through our state.
Jason Frye book signing for Moon NC and Moon NC Coast
Saturday, June 7th, 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Barnes and Noble
850 Inspiration Drive