Friday, August 30, 2013

Asheville author's memoir recalls a brutal orphanage

One night several years ago, Asheville musician Danny Ellis began writing a song about a time in his life he had long sought to bury. 

One stanza in particular told the essence of his story:

"I’ll be back for you this Christmas,” I could hear my mammy say
And the bitter truth within that lie I’ve yet to face today
When it gets too much for feeling you just bury it somehow
And that eight year old abandoned lad still waits for her right now

The song, “800 Voices,” became the title tune on Ellis’s first DVD, released in 2009. And it led to a memoir, “The Boy at the Gate,” (Arcade; $24.95). First published in Ireland, his native country, the book is out this week in the United States.

Ellis’s memoir recounts a life shaped by the eight years he lived in Dublin’s Artane Industrial School, an orphanage notorious for beating and abusing the boys who lived there. 

He arrived at age eight, abandoned by his mother, and remained until he was 16, when he became a trombonist playing in dance halls across Ireland. 

“The Boy at the Gate” was well-received in Ireland. Early U.S. reviews are also strong. Kirkus Reviews, for instance, praises the way Ellis “uses his story to liberate the voices of otherwise forgotten children.”

That was Ellis’s goal – not to focus so much on the abuse, he says, but on the “courage of the kids who tried to make the best of it.”

Still, the violence he describes is terrifying. When boys get their sums wrong in math class, a teacher whips their hands with a leather strap. When Ellis vomits in class, a teacher beats him. 

But when he joined the Artane Boys Band, music became Ellis’s salvation. The band, famous in Ireland, even played for President Kennedy in 1962, when Ellis was a member. The band, he says, “made the school seem like it was a wholesome place.” 

Ellis, who has lived in Asheville for 15 years, says writing his memoir was one of the most enjoyable creative experiences of his life.  “I would lie in bed with my laptop, close my eyes and go back to the playground,” he says. 

In recent years, Ellis has re-connected with some of his former Artane classmates. But he never found his mom, who left for England after turning her children over to orphanages. “She just disappeared off the face of the earth,” he says.

Ellis will read and perform his songs at 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

N.C. authors longlisted for Crook's Corner Book Prize

A dozen authors, including five with N.C. and Charlotte ties, have been named to a long list of finalists for the Crook's Corner Book Prize, a new award for exceptional debut novels set in the South.
 They include:
  "Leaving Tuscaloosa" by Walter Bennett, a retired Charlotte judge who now lives in Chapel Hill.
"Code of the Forest" by Charlotte attorney Jon Buchan.
"A Land More Kind Than Home" by Gastonia native and UNC Asheville graduate Wiley Cash.
"Green Gospel" by Durham's L.C. Fiore.  
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain, a Chapel Hill native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate.

Other longlisted finalists are Rita Leganski ("The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow"), Lois Leveen ("The Secrets of Mary Bowser"), Ayana Mathis ("The Twelve Tribes of Hattie"), Rhonda Riley ("The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope"), Jessica Maria Tuccelli ("Glow"), Kevin Wilson ("The Family Fang") and Margaret Wrinkle ("Wash").

The new book prize, named for the landmark Chapel Hill restaurant with the pig on the roof,  includes $1,000 and a free glass of wine with every restaurant visit during the award year.

The twelve longlisted finalists were chosen from 68 submissions. In November, judges will announce four finalists. N.C. novelist Jill McCorkle ("Life After Life") will choose the winner in January.

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Carolinas novels for fall reading

For your fall reading list, new novels from Carolinas authors:

“The Governor’s Lady” (John F. Blair; $26.95), by novelist and fo
rmer Charlotte television news anchor Robert Inman. When Cooper Lanier succeeds her husband as governor of a southern state, she faces a dilemma. Her husband, who’s running for president, is trying to control state matters from the campaign trail. But if she doesn’t make her own decisions, she risks becoming irrelevant.
Inman will read and sign copies 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

“The Life & Times of Persimmon Wilson” (Lystra Books; $16), by Nancy Peacock.
“I have been to hangings before, but never my own.” So begins the story of Persimmon Wilson, a former slave accused of murdering his ex-master and kidnapping the man’s wife. Peacock, author of the New York Times Notable Book “Without Water,” lives in Hillsborough.

“Moonrise,” (Maiden Lane Press; $26.99), by Cassandra King. Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel “Rebecca” inspired this modern gothic tale, which King sets in Highlands. King, whose novels include “Making Waves” and “The Sunday Wife,” lives in Beaufort, S.C., with her husband, Pat Conroy.

“Necessary Lies” (St. Martin’s Press; $26.99), by Diane Chamberlain. Set in rural North Carolina in 1960 and based on true events, this is a tale of Ivy Hart, a teenager struggling to care for her family and a social worker, Jane Forrester, who becomes invested in the family’s welfare. Chamberlain, author of 21 novels, lives in Raleigh.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

N.C. author wins American Bar Association award

The American Bar Association has given Avery County’s Jay Leutze a Silver Gavel Award honorable mention for his 2012 book “Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail.”

The book, now in paperback (Scribner; $18), is the true account of Avery County residents’ fight to stop a gravel mine owner from dynamiting Belview Mountain.

 Leutze, a lawyer and naturalist, recounts the story in first person, as an activist who joins the cause of residents battling the mining company and government officials. The Silver Gavel honors outstanding efforts to promote public understanding of the law.

"This book inspires hope," the awards committee wrote, "that, despite often long odds, deserving underdogs can prevail in our justice system."

 Leutze will read and sign copies at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.