I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing

My relationship with Taylor Swift began with yoga, coffee and a break up.
imageI met Brooke at a yoga class in June. She approached me after I taught and bubbled over with enthusiasm and encouragement. Later, I asked a mutual friend why she seemed so familiar.

Right. Because she’s on TV and we had exchanged a half-dozen work-related emails over the years.

Brooke and I met for coffee weeks later, and our friendship quickly moved from yoga to heart issues when she asked how I prepared for teaching.

“Well, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me two days prior to the class you took,” I said. “When I planned that session, I focused on maintaining an open hear even after heartbreak.”

Brooke teared up. Her best friend had recently called off their relationship, she said, and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” became her anthem in the aftermath.

We shed tears in that suburban coffee shop and declared our friendship cemented. And Brooke insisted I buy Taylor’s “1989” as soon as possible.

By that afternoon, I asked a coworker to take a coffee break with me because the one-two punch of “Wildest Dreams” and “How You Get the Girl” bad me welling up at the office. After we returned from that coffee run, I looked up the 1989 tour. I needed to be there.

My therapist OK’ed a bit of retail therapy in the wake of that break up. She said I was doing well, but it was fine to brighten my day with purchases within reason. I took that to heart, refreshing my makeup routine and subscribing to a flower CSA. On that June afternoon, I didn’t think twice about dropping $118 to see Taylor Swift, alone, in Atlanta.

image It’s been nearly five months, and “1989” is an album that I return to repeatedly. I suspect fame has increased Taylor’s maturity, and there’s much I relate to as a result. The album creates a safe place to process the often-heavy emotions that accompany life and loss. In fact, the dichotomy of Taylor’s upbeat pop and the more nuanced lyrics is exactly why I (think I) prefer her version to Ryan Adams’ beautiful, mournful cover album (and I’m an RA fan girl).

Tonight I’ve donned my red-lip classic look and set out for the Georgia Dome. It’s a pilgrimage second only to seeing Paul McCartney years ago, another show that carried such emotional importance that I didn’t beauty to go it alone. Tonight I’ll sing, dance and cry in a dome filled with thousands of other people who have been moved by this music. Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1989.

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Filed under Autobiography, Love letters, music

She needs new faces, she knows the high stakes

This summer has been filled with stress and change, some of it positive, other elements less so. I’ve been seeking positive ways to ease those adjustments: subscribing to a flower CSA, attempting to increase the number of yoga classes I take per week, setting aside more and more time for reading.

Today, inspiration struck.

A song playing over the sound system at Urban Standard reminded me of the Dixie Chicks, and so I spent the rest of the day listening to “Taking the Long Way” (an album I’m still infatuated with, all these years later). I tweeted about my music of choice, and later noticed the band’s account had favorited that tweet. So I clicked through to the band’s Twitter profile–and remembered they’re touring Europe this spring.

Then I did what any normal person would do. I hopped on Ticketmaster and bought a pair of tickets to see the Dixie Chicks in Birmingham, England.

A coworker giggled as I narrated the purchase. (“I don’t even know how much I just spent! How do pounds convert to dollars?”) Several people have already asked if I purchased tickets in the wrong Birmingham by mistake. (I didn’t.) Now, I’m daydreaming about my first-ever European trip.

One of my greatest regrets is giving away tickets to see the Dixie Chicks on their “Fly” tour. My sister and one of my best friends went, while I spent the weekend on a ministry retreat to one of Florida’s least appealing beaches. Fifteen years later, I’m correcting that mistake.

I’m not yet sure how this plan will come together. I’m not positive it will. I have to figure out airfare, lodging in multiple cities, what I want to see and do in England and whether I can justify the expense. Oh, I need to be sure my passport hasn’t expired! But I have time–the show isn’t until April. As many reasons there are to travel abroad, why not make the impetus for my first such trip a concert? It’s something I’ll look forward to for months to come–and likely won’t forget for years afterward.

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Filed under music, Travel

I’m more than I appear

One of the challenges that accompanies my depression is that I often tell myself, and believe, lies. Among those is that a man will choose me based only on my appearance.

I don’t know where I got that from. I know it’s not true.

But when things go wrong in romance, I often trot out that lie and use it to flog myself. When my boyfriend broke up with me earlier this year, I did just that.

It’s a silly reaction, and not only because I know it’s untrue. I also tend to like my appearance. I could recite my flaws for you the same as any woman (or man, I suppose), but when I look in the mirror, I’m happy with what I see.

I’ve never been a fashionista or particularly savvy with makeup, but I have long believed that when you feel good, you look good (regardless of what you actually look like). And so when a girl friend invited me to join her for a mall makeover just weeks after the breakup, I quickly said yes.

The resulting makeover gave us fodder for a Jezebel column (the plan all along), but it was also an educational pick-me-up. One of my best friends was particularly thrilled with the results, I think because she recognizes that your outward appearance can reflect how you feel inside.

Mall Makeovers

Carla Jean’s Beauty Routine: My daily routine combines a bit of Southern expectation with a more relaxed attitude toward appearances. I usually apply BB cream, mascara and lip gloss at a minimum. On days when my reporting job requires me to meet with prominent people, I usually go for a full—but natural-looking—face. I’ve also become comfortable walking around town in sweaty workout clothes and no makeup, in large part because I’m a yoga teacher on the side. Read more “Mall Makeovers: Going Cruelty-Free in Birmingham, Alabama” at Jezebel

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Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity

Where can you buy ‘Birmingham Beer’?

ABC 33/40 – Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is where my books are sold. (This is a good problem to have. In fact, I’d say it’s not a problem at all.) There are plenty of options, including your local bookstore (even if you’re not in Birmingham, your favorite shop can order it for you), the national chains (same story) and the usual online retailers.

But in the Birmingham area, there are several additional places you can pick up copies of “Birmingham Beer”:

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Filed under Birmingham Beer, Books

2015 concerts

  1. Glen Hansard, Iron City, Feb. 2, 2015
  2. Triumphant Trumpet: Tamberg Trumpet Concerto, Haydn Trumpet Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Alabama Symphony Orchestra with conductor Carlos Izcaray, Alys Stephens Center, Feb. 13, 2015
  3. Punch Brothers, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Feb. 27, 2015
  4. Authentic US presents an evening with Josh Vasa and Sanyasi, Desert Island Supply Co., March 21, 2015
  5. Wye Oak with William Brittelle, Alabama Symphony Orchestra Classical EDGE series, Alys Stephens Center, March 26, 2015
  6. The Music of John Williams from the Movies of Steven Spielberg, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Wright Center, Samford University, May 2, 2015
  7. Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood, BJCC Legacy Arena, June 13, 2015
  8. The Watkins Family Hour with Secret Sisters and Buddy Miller, City Winery, Nashville, Aug. 1, 2015
  9. Taylor Swift, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Oct. 24, 2015
  10. Chris Thile, Alys Stephens Center, Nov. 2, 2015
  11. Damien Rice, Iron City, Nov. 15, 2015

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Filed under Autobiography, Listing, music

Here I go again on my own

Whitesnake might not be exactly the best soundtrack for this moment, but I’ve got that refrain running through my head just the same. Today is one year and two days since the publication of my first book–and four days shy the publication of my second.

This moment snuck up on me. How, I’m not sure. I began research for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” days after I submitted the manuscript for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music.” And to be honest, it’s not a path I would recommend! Perhaps that’s not something I should admit in such a public forum; I think it’s been a worthwhile experience. But it means the past couple of years have been a whirlwind.

Earlier this week I received my first media request for this new book, and realized it was past time to update my media kit and add a “Birmingham Beer” page to my website. Two days later, and I’ve already seen three media appearances.

I’m lucky, I know. Yes, I work hard, but I don’t think hard work alone results in these opportunities. My first book fell into my lap, and the second came along while I was in the midst of writing the first. When people ask what’s next, I get to respond “taking a break!” I never could have dreamed that taking a break from writing books would be a treat.

So here I go again. I say it’s on my own, and in some ways that’s accurate. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and I’m the only person sure to show up at every one of my book signings. But I couldn’t do it without the people who lived the story of Birmingham beer. This community has been eager to share its story with me, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. This–and so many other things!–also wouldn’t be feasible without my community of friends and family. That was the best part of my first book, and I’m excited to celebrate with these people once again.

5things beer

I spent much of the past year researching and writing the history of Birmingham beer. Time and again, people have said to me, “That must be a pretty short book. Birmingham didn’t have beer until, what, 2008?”

And there’s some logic to their inquiry. Of Alabama’s current breweries, the oldest is Good People, which sold its first beer on July 4, 2008. But—as the owners and staff would be quick to mention themselves—they are standing on the shoulders of so many who went before them. —Read more “Five things you probably didn’t know about Birmingham beer” at AL.com.

The Homewood StarLocal author Carla Jean Whitley will launch her newest book, Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City, at Alabama Booksmith on July 27.

The book is a part of The History Press’ American Palate series and explores the history of breweries in the Birmingham area, from 15 years after the city’s founding to some of its newest craft breweries. –Read more “Birmingham Beer history book to launch at Alabama Booksmith” at thehomewoodstar.com.


Carla Jean is one of the first people I approached about being on Birmingham Shines because I know how much she loves Birmingham.

We decided to time her appearance on the show to coincide with the release of her new book,Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City, which will be available for purchase starting July 27, 2015. –Read more “Carla Jean Whitley: On writing, on Birmingham” and listen to the podcast at birminghamshines.com.

See all press here.

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Filed under Autobiography, Birmingham Beer, Books

A super simple yoga sequence for relieving workplace discomfort

One of the beautiful things about my job is the freedom to work from home. But I’ll be honest: When I choose that option, I don’t exactly optimize it ergonomically. I’m usually sitting on my couch or in an arm chair, bent over a laptop. My head droops to meet my computer screen, and my shoulders roll forward.

I know better.

A few minutes of yoga can bring my attention back to my posture while working out some of the kinks created by this setup. During a writing frenzy Friday, I stepped away from the computer and onto my mat for a few minutes to address those very issues. This super simple sequence takes three to four minutes and offers significant relief.

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Not only is ‘Birmingham Beer’ available for preorder …

No, that's not an actual copy ... but it's a pretty darn good replica, don't you think? Alabama Booksmith owner Jake Reiss called me into the shop for a sneak peek after he printed the hardcover jacket and wrapped it around a similarly sized book. I'll admit, I loved seeing my photo and bio on the back inside flap.

No, that’s not an actual copy … but it’s a pretty darn good replica, don’t you think? Alabama Booksmith owner Jake Reiss called me into the shop for a sneak peek after he printed the hardcover jacket and wrapped it around a similarly sized book. I’ll admit, I loved seeing my photo and bio on the back inside flap.

… it’s available in hardback!

Alabama Booksmith will offer an exclusive, limited-edition hardcover book when “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” debuts this summer. The hardback will be $27.99, and is available for preorder now.

If paperback’s your preference, opportunities abound. That edition will be widely available, including preorders from Church Street Coffee and Books and Little Professor Book Center, both here in Birmingham. The paperback edition is $21.99, and both editions are set for release July 27.

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Filed under Birmingham Beer, Books

The cover of ‘Birmingham Beer,’ revealed

First, the big stuff:

Birmingham Beer

And now, the rest of the story.

Here’s something you may not know about book covers, unless you’ve written one: Unless he or she is self publishing, the author may not have much say in a book’s appearance.

And in most ways, that’s been my experience. My publisher asks authors to submit potential cover photos when sending interior photos. But from there, it’s in the design team’s hands. When the cover for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” arrived, I was over the moon. The publisher ultimately acquired rights to the photo, and so the cover was a very pleasant surprise to me.

“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” is another story. Because The History Press has published a number of beer books, the team wanted my cover to reflect the others in the series. I knew the finished product would include a skyline and a pint glass.

The skyline is the exciting part (besides seeing my name in print–let’s be honest, that doesn’t get old). When my editor requested Birmingham skyline shots, I turned to my friend Rachel Callahan.

Last year Rachel launched PictureBirmingham.com, a site from which she sells photos and photo products, mostly of Birmingham sunsets. All of her proceeds benefit The Wellhouse, an organization that fights sex trafficking in the Birmingham area. (You can read more of Rachel’s story in this Birmingham magazine article.)

The design team and I went back and forth a bit on fonts and which photo they would use, and I’m thrilled that one of Rachel’s images, “Autumn Comes to Birmingham,” graces the cover of “Birmingham Beer.” It depicts my favorite season (football!) in my favorite city (obviously)–and it’s also available for you to purchase from PictureBirmingham.com.

There’s plenty more “Birmingham Beer” news on the way, and I can’t wait to share the city’s fascinating brewing history with you.

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Filed under Birmingham Beer, Books

SPJ and I are serious


Swearing-in selfie

Last year I shared why I (finally) joined the Society of Professional Journalists. Last month, I became vice president of my local chapter. This is the text of my “acceptance speech,” which I sent to chapter president Meredith Cummings via text message. Want to get involved? Learn more on the chapter website and like the chapter on Facebook.

I, Carla Jean Whitley, do solemnly swear to uphold the bylaws of the Society of Professional Journalists Alabama chapter and the powers invested in me as Vice President. I will write all emails in AP style, and will fight with autocorrect but eventually give up when it insists on capitalizing things like Vice President. I will fulfill the duties of the office to the best of my ability, even if it means emailing from bed while running my essential oils diffuser and drinking herbal tea to stave off allergies. I will let Meredith know if we need to dial it back because we’re overextending ourselves, and I will discourage her from taking on any additional Twitter accounts. In the names of Pulitzer, Bernstein and Woodward, Strunk and White, amen.

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Filed under Autobiography, Journalism