Novel grown from Beaufort County roots

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When Donna Elks was growing up, the only movie theater in town was the Turnage. Friday, she returns to the restored early 20th-century theater, this time for a book signing, reading and Q & A as Arts of the Pamlico’s featured writer.

Elks’ book, “Possum Track Chronicles,” is a coming-of-age story set in the place Elks called home for much of her life — Chocowinity. Described as the memoir of a southern Gen-X tomboy, Elks goes back in time to tell a story, one of poverty and abuse tempered by family, faith and love.

It’s her own story.

“I modeled the voice in the book, really, when I set out to do it in my head, I imagined Ralphie, with his Radio Flyer,” Elks said, referring to narrator of the iconic holiday classic, “A Christmas Story.” “This story is told in that voice: sardonic, slightly flippant — every child has delusions of grandeur. I wanted it to be funny, but I wanted it to be real.”

It was real. “Possum Track Chronicles” is the story of her parents, who married too young and struggled with marriage and raising three children, and who, Elks said, brought out the worst in one another, even as they tried to do their best. It’s also about a childhood to which most here can relate, back when seatbelts were optional and drinking water came from a garden hose.

“It captures a lot of what every kid goes through, no matter if they grew up in the ‘50s or the ‘70s. It’s kind of like you’re paying homage to them, when you talk about going to grocery store and sitting in front of comics, and you’ve got no shoes on your feet,” Elks said. “It’s my attempt to pay tribute to that.”

Elks graduated from Chocowinity High School in 1985 and immediately joined the U.S. Coast Guard. For 11 years, she worked as a corpsman, stationed at bases in New York City and Mobile, Alabama, among others. Today she lives in the Raleigh area, but no matter where she’s lived, she’s always been drawn to the written word.

“I started writing almost as soon as started reading. I was a book worm, a big-time book worm,” Elks said.

Devouring fiction, non-fiction, biographies and more evolved into a published book of poetry, “Possum Track Chronicles” and plans for more works. But “Possum Track Chronicles” was a labor of love, one she struggled to tell.

“I went through great pains to tell a true story with as much kindness and forgiveness as possible,” Elks said.

Elks said she’s grateful to be able to return to her roots and share her novel, which she believes was ultimately driven by a higher purpose and the lessons learned along the way.

“(It’s about) learning to love somebody in spite of how they hurt you, even if it’s your parents,” Elks said. “But more, it’s about learning to forgive, because people who don’t learn how to forgive live long, hard lives.”

Elks’ book signing will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday in the gallery of Arts of the Pamlico’s Turnage Theatre in Washington.