"I have a life outside of trying to be a glamour girl," says Traci, at ease in the back of a Hollywood pub. "The business I'm starting now is called I.C. Art. For a long time I've had products I want to get off the ground. I have a book of about 100 ideas."
Will she let us in on some of her trade secrets? Traci grins and says, "Let's just say I'm trying to patent three things right now. In the two years since I graduated from college and moved from Memphis, I've become surrounded by creative people who inspire me and who don't criticize my ideas. That's important to me."
Traci looks back now and laughs at the long trip from being a tall high school girl afraid of her own body to being Playboy's newest darling.
"I was extremely shy all through college. I never dated. I dressed very conservatively, in big sweaters. A lot of people are freaked out that I'm coming out of my shell."
Her shyness came from strict Memphis mores and her struggle for acceptance as the "baby girl" in her family. But that family is also where her support comes from. "The bottom line is that every single person in my family is wonderful," Traci says. "Four of us have college degrees. I think that's really cool. And my younger brother is going to school right now to become a doctor.
"Growing up was rough," she says. "My dad split when I was ten. My mom had five kids to support, all between the ages of eight and 15. She had to make ends meet on less than $14,000 a year. She is a wonderfully strong person. At the same time, though, we kids were pretty much on our own."
Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Traci received the kind of welcome that people make movies about -- horror movies. "I got bit by every shark there was," she says. "I was a sweet little girl from Memphis. You can be that in Memphis, because people aren't trying to pull you into their mean little circle."
She fought back and soon landed a number of modeling jobs, small movie roles and guest appearances on sitcoms, including "Baywatch," "Blossom" and "Married With Children." She also auditioned for Playboy's 40th Anniversary Playmate search.
"Over the course of six months, before I was even a Playmate, I made a lot of friends through Playboy. They've become a source of strength for me, people I can lean on."
For now, Traci's going full-bore into modeling and acting, using her nights to study. "I want to learn about everything," she says. "Right now there are ten different subjects on my bookshelf. I have a book on inventors of the 20th century. And I love the classics. I'm reading 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' by Thomas Hardy. Plus, I read about a dozen magazines a week. You have to if you're hungry for knowledge the way that I am."
But like many provincial prodigies, Traci looks forward to the day when she can go back home. "I definitely love just being in Memphis. I want a nice little house that is full of trust, honesty, warmth and passion. I want to be a mom and a wife and start teaching or writing. Writing has been an outlet for me to express my passion and curiosity. I'd like to write self-help books. That would be my way of helping others, sort of like soul work. And I'll probably go back to school and get my master's. But it's not as though I want to be secluded. I'll still have my big-city contacts, and I will always have big dreams."
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