Around Town: Blue Ridge Mountains inspire debut suspense novel

SENSE OF PLACE: Weaverville author Sarah P. Blanchard wove elements of Western North Carolina's landscape and people into her debut novel, Drawn from Life. Photo courtesy of the author

Toxic family relationships, trauma, guilt and a horrific car crash all have roles in Sarah P. Blanchard’s soon-to-be-released psychological suspense story, Drawn from Life. So do the Blue Ridge Mountains, which serve as the backdrop. The Weaverville author will sign and read selections from her debut novel at a launch event Monday, April 1, 6 p.m., at Blue Mountain Pizza in Weaverville.

The setting for the book’s first four chapters — a remote mountain cabin, a winding gravel road and treacherous storms — was inspired by the climb to a waterfall above Elk Pen in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest, where the author used to regularly ride her horse, she explains. “Drawn from Life doesn’t have horses, just a couple of fat ponies,” says Blanchard. “But the Blue Ridge Mountains are always present in the background.”

The creative origins of the dynamic personalities in the novel, such as the guilt-ridden and damaged Emma Gillen and her bullying, greed-driven cousin Lucy, also have Western North Carolina influences. “I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer diversity of people who are drawn to these mountains and bring with them their art, music, creativity and spirit,” Blanchard says. “Many of the characters in this book are modeled on people I’ve met here.”

Drawn from Life will publish on Monday, April 1, and will be available at local bookstores and other outlets. In addition to the Blue Mountain Pizza launch celebration, a May 18 book reading and signing event is planned for Sassafras on Sutton in Black Mountain.

Blue Mountain Pizza is at 55 N. Main St., Weaverville. Sassafras on Sutton is at 108 Sutton Ave., Black Mountain. For information about Drawn from Life and the two events, visit

Prison books movement: essays and action

In the late 1990s, then-Asheville resident David “Mac” Marquis helped found Asheville Prison Books, a local organization providing free reading material to prison inmates. The first program of its kind in the Southeast, Asheville Prison Books is part of a national movement that grew out of lawsuits and other efforts by incarcerated people to gain access to books other than the Bible, which was the only book permitted in jails and prisons in the 1960s and 1970s.

At two Asheville events — Monday, April 1, 6 p.m., at Malaprop’s Bookstore, and Sunday, April 21, 3 p.m., at Firestorm Books — Marquis, now a postdoctoral history fellow at the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies, will join current Asheville Prison Books organizer Julie Schneyer in discussing Books Through Bars: Stories from the Prison Books Movement. The collection of essays highlights the need for prison book programs and offers guidance on how to establish new ones or become involved with existing efforts.

Both events will be hybrid, with virtual and in-person options. Preregistration is required for in-person attendance. 

Malaprop’s is at 55 Haywood St. Visit for more information. Firestorm Books is at 1022 Haywood Road, and details are available at

Yale singing group at St. Lawrence Basilica

Fourteen seniors from Yale University compose the century-old a capella singing group the Whiffenpoofs, which makes a stop in Western North Carolina on Tuesday, April 2, 7:30 p.m., for a performance at the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

Founded in 1909, the group performs a mix of traditional Yale songs, jazz tunes and other classics. The “Whiffs” are well known for their signature theme song, “The Whiffenpoof Song,” which has been recorded by Rudy Vallée, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and many others. In recent years, the Whiffenpoofs have been featured on television shows such as “The West Wing” and “Glee.”

The Basilica of St. Lawrence is at 97 Haywood St. Tickets range from $10-$35. For more information, visit

Entrepreneurial skills for creative folks

Business skills might not be part of every creative person’s repertoire, but Mountain BizWorks addresses that with its spring 2024 Craft Your Commerce series, “The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit.” Taught by owners of local creative businesses, classes provide instruction in topics including social media content development, smoothing difficult client relationships, copyright and licensing processes, grant writing, AI technology, handling sales as an introvert and more.

“As a small-business owner myself, I understand the complexities that come with managing time, promotion and the myriad tasks involved in running a successful business,” says Craft Your Commerce program manager Jamie Karolich in a press release. “My hope is that the workshops offered this spring will assist individuals in streamlining some of these tasks.”

All classes are virtual and take place on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons in April and May. The first class, Copyright and Licensing for Artists with Katherine de Vos Devine, takes place Tuesday, April 9, 1-3 p.m. Cost is $10 per workshop or $50 for the entire series.

For the full list of classes and to register, visit

New digs for Echo Mountain Recording

Echo Mountain Recording, which has made its home in a historic church building near downtown since 2006, recently announced plans for an expansive new eco-friendly space on 68 acres north of Asheville. In addition to new music production and recording studio facilities, the planned location will function as a destination retreat, offering on-site lodging for artists with riverfront access, mountain views and full-service catering and hospitality.

Echo Mountain’s iconic building on North French Broad Avenue has been sold to the Ohio-based historic real estate company GBX Group to fund the project, says Echo Mountain assistant engineer Talia Service. However, the current studio space will continue operating until construction is finished on the new facility, which is projected to open in 2026.

For more on Echo Mountain Recording, visit

Village Art & Craft Fair on hiatus 

After more than half a century of annual late-summer events in Biltmore Village, the 2024 Village Art & Craft Fair has been canceled due to upcoming construction of the Kessler Hotel. New Morning Gallery, which independently sponsors and produces the fair, announced in a press release that the hotel project prompted event planners to “take space to reflect on the future of our show.”

The 99-room hotel, restaurant and retail space, approved by Asheville City Council at its March 12 meeting, will be built at 10 Kitchin Place next to All Souls Cathedral, the site of the Village Art & Craft Fair. At past fairs, proceeds from church-sponsored concession booths benefited the cathedral’s programs.

Last year’s free, two-day fair hosted more than 100 artists and crafters. The show is usually held the weekend after Labor Day.

For more on the Village Art & Craft Fair, visit


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