On a sultry day in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the customers at a local grill swap wisecracks with the young women behind the counter. "What do you usually eat here?" one newcomer asks the teenage cook.

"Nothing," she says, waving a greasy spatula. Actually, the hamburgers are fine, but the real appeal of this place is the decor. "Don't talk about yourself," a poster declares, "we'll talk about you when you leave." Other wall literature addresses concerns of politics, religion, and male-female relations with about equal seriousness.

But amid the clamor of words, hanging near a window that looks out on Main Street is a little group of photographs. Look closer and you'll see snapshots of the restaurant employees with a local writer who has gradually become a celebrity—Jan Karon, author of the Mitford novels: At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window, These High, Green Hills, and, this summer thirteenth on the hardback besteller list, Out to Canaan. All four books follow the ups and downs of a likable Episcopal priest named Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh. But the main character of the Mitford series is the mythical town of Mitford itself. Over a million readers have visited it in print and on audiotape, and many of those readers have gone on to become pseudocitizens, following local news in a Mitford newsletter, keeping up with its characters like real friends and neighbors.

Some people think that Blowing Rock is Mitford. With its maple-shaded back streets, its mossy rock walls and bursting rhododendrons, this North Carolina resort town could pass for the place Jan Karon describes in At Home in Mitford:

"Mitford," observed a travel feature by a prominent newspaper, "is a village delightfully out of step with contemporary America. ...
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