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Monday, October 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Local tater heads follow Sweet Potato Queen's pipin' hot tips on men and food

Seattle Times desk editor

Book reading


Jill Conner Browne reads from her new book, "The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men" ($13.95, Three Rivers Press) at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333, www.thirdplacebooks.com).

Find the Sweet Potato Queens online at www.sweetpotatoqueens.com

Dang, where is that tiara? It's never around when you need it.

And we sure do need it now because the arrival of the Sweet Potato Queen approaches. Her local fans surely will want to gussy up to greet her when she hits town tomorrow to dish about her new book.

Her highness is in actuality Jill Conner Browne of Jackson, Miss., author of "The Sweet Potato Queens" books that have left a trail of big-haired, feather-boaed fans nationwide, most of 'em named Tammy, the generic alter-ego Queen name.

Browne is America's No. 1 humor writer, according to Bookscan, a retail-sales monitoring service. Her subject matter is girlfriend stuff — men and food mostly — dished out in a down-home-no-nonsense/it's-all-nonsense style. And more of her Southern wisdom and advice for living cause a big to-do among the 50-something lady crowd.

Her previous book, "The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner)" was a top New York Times best seller. The latest is titled "The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay or Dead."

In it, she discusses all manner of potential mate; the Bud Spud, Dud Spud, Crud Spud, Fuddy-Dud Spud, Pud Spud, Blood Spud, Scud Spud and the Spud Stud.

There's also Dr. Phil-worthy motivation: "In my experience, if you ignore your life, it will pretty much ignore you right back. I reckon the universe figures why should it bother sending you anything else if you haven't got any more gumption than that."

More valuable tips about "The Promise" are included (a between-the-sheets secret that Queens know can't be spelled out in a family newspaper).

And there are more recipes. Tater Queen cuisine includes all the major food groups: sauces, dressings, gravys, chocolates, cheeses, margaritas and bacon, bacon, bacon.

In a phone interview from her home in Jackson, Miss., last week, Browne said, "We need to laugh a whole lot more. My books are a little spicy, and I think sex and laughter are two of the greatest gifts we were given. And if my books can bring that to anybody, that's my contribution for the world."

How the idea sprouted

This whole queen deal came about 11 years ago after Browne's second divorce at age 40. She was caring for her daughter and ill mother and was severely short on fun. So Browne made her own. She got herself a stuffin'-packed green-sequined minidress, majorette boots, giant hair and a real sparkly tiara. She deemed herself a queen, seein' as how nobody else had seen fit to do it, and presented her brand new self to the world atop a truck, wavin' in Jackson's St. Patrick's Day parade.

And that was that. Fun ran amuck. To this day, the parade remains the highest of Queen holy days. Thousands of fans from around the country, dressed all trashy, flock to Jackson each year. They gobble up her paperbacks like they were drippin' with her deliciously half-baked Chocolate Stuff. (Runny chocolate cake. Good for any emergency. Best eaten straight from the pan.) The humor is snort-soda-out-your-nose funny, but Browne also writes with heart. It's like having a long talk with an old friend. And, boy, do they chat.

Message Board of Love

Fellow Queens jam the Web site's Message Board of Love (www.sweetpotatoqueens.com) with recipes and advice 24 hours a day. They network and meet up for unofficial (it's all quite unofficial, actually) Potato Queen weekends in faraway places, such as Dallas. Local chapters — like gangs, but for grown women — spread and take root like ivy up a fence. There are almost 4,000 of them.

"It's so great to have read all these names on the message board, and then to finally get to meet the women," Browne said of the book tours.

Queens of Seattle

One fan she'll get to meet tomorrow is Queen Tammy Ann, enthusiastic boss queen of the Emerald City Queens of Seattle.

"I've always felt I could dress up how I wanted, but now I feel like I belong," said Tammy Ann. Her 9-to-5 self is Ann Bardue, a training specialist with Group Health who lives in the View Ridge area. "It's a lot of fun, and a chance to hang out with women and not compete. My oldest daughter is in my chapter, too. She's 33. My youngest daughter, who's 12, is still a Tater Tot, but she loves to dress up."

Bardue's favorite queenly repasts include Pig Candy, ReVirginators and Comeback Sauce. She's also fond of Death Chicken.

"Sometimes we go out to have dinner and just laugh and scratch. But we also try to do volunteer work. Last time we sewed up a bunch of fleece blankets for newborns born drug and alcohol addicted."

It was just recently that Bardue, 52, snagged herself a really snappy pair of lipstick-red cowboy boots during an informal queens get-together in Dallas. Goes great with her flaming red boa, and wayyyy-too-big-to-be-real emerald ring, especially sitting at a little café table outside the University Village Starbucks on a recent Saturday afternoon. She showed up with pal Queen Wicked Vicki, 48-year-old Vicki Rhodes. Her boa was sizzling pink.

They were such vibrant things of beauty that shoppers stopped to clasp their queenly hands and say stuff like, "Your majesty, I'm one of your loyal subjects," and "You look beautiful!"

Then Jan Duncan, 62, of Kenmore stopped. She wore an oversized Mariners sweatshirt. "I'm a breast-cancer survivor, so when you say every day's a good day, I say amen. I've read a number of her books, and if you're a Sweet Potato Queen you get to put on big boobs! Well, I have none, so I'll always be perky."

"More is more"

The Sweet Potato Queen's mantra is "more is more." And more is on its way.

There's The WB's Sweet Potato Queens TV pilot taped last year that stars Delta Burke: "It's still floatin' around out there. Television takes forever," Browne said.

Then there's the musical: "We're workin' on the deal points for a stage production with Melissa Manchester. This has always been my dream for it."

And there's the next book, which she is writing now: "Well, if you read it in one direction it's a wedding planner, and when you read it the other direction it's a divorce guide. Hopefully, you won't need one if you read the other, whichever one you don't want to have."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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