Kristy Tolley mixes local and visitor perspectives in new Asheville guidebook

FAN NONFICTION: Carolinas-based travel writer and editor Kristy Tolley brings over 25 years of Asheville visits and research to her new guidebook. Author photo by Joe Tolley

In her career as a Carolinas-based travel writer and editor for over 25 years, Kristy Tolley has worked with numerous freelancers who’ve penned guidebooks in Reedy Press’ 100 Things series. During that time, she’s also been what she calls “smitten with Asheville” and has visited every chance she’s gotten.

“When I discovered there wasn’t a 100 Things book for Asheville, I was shocked,” Tolley says. “I contacted the publisher and submitted a proposal and marketing plan. They accepted it, and I got to work.”

Coming up with enough items for 100 Things to Do in Asheville Before You Die, however, wouldn’t be nearly as challenging as narrowing her list to that number. Tolley made sure to include popular iconic and historical attractions — Biltmore Estate and The Omni Grove Park Inn were musts — but also sought to highlight activities that people might not know about. Empyrean Arts, the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens and the Asheville Radio Museum are among the hidden gems that earned full-page write-ups.

Though there technically are 100 “things” in the book, a decent number of Tolley’s headings allow her to loop in multiple businesses and events. For example, item No. 88, “Hit the Books at a Bookstore” focuses on Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar and Bagatelle Books, while also featuring a “Tip” info box that points comics-minded readers to Asheville Comics, Morgan’s Comics and Pastimes.

“I believe you can find something new and interesting to do in Asheville every time you visit,” she says. “My hope is that my book is a good representation of that.”

Making those visits while researching and writing 100 Things to Do in Asheville Before You Die was no easy feat. The statewide Stay at Home order to curb the spread of COVID-19 went into effect exactly one week after Tolley signed her contract to write the book. By that point, she’d already created a sizable list based on her previous visits but wasn’t able to conduct new research trips for nearly three months. Instead, she pivoted to phone interviews and emails, but once pandemic-related restrictions were relaxed and more businesses reopened, she developed what she calls “a pretty regular road-trip cadence.”

“Those conversations cultivated so much hope and optimism in me,” Tolley says. “Talking with business owners and learning how they were adapting during the pandemic and supporting one another deepened my love for Asheville even more.”

While some people might scoff at a non-Ashevillean penning a guidebook to the city, Tolley — who lives just outside Charlotte in Tega Cay, S.C. — feels that her outsider status is more of an asset than a handicap. Her extensive research and in-person exploration of the area throughout her professional life gives her a distinct viewpoint. But she also consulted her Asheville-based friends and colleagues, along with the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau team, to ensure that her list included their favorite activities and restaurants, thereby providing a strong mix of local and visitor perspectives.


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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