There is no way to sum up my Girlfriend Weekend experience in a single blog post. Even though Ann Hite and I made a guest appearance on the Southern Spines Blog, there are still stories to share. By the way, you can read our post here. Would you believe, Ann and I worked separately on this piece? Funny, I think the post reads like we shared a keyboard. Put fifteen hundred miles of asphalt under us and we became connected at the hip.
Today I want to write about Alyse Urice. Ann told me about her during the trip, mentioned that Alyse had reached out to her after reading Ann’s book, Ghost on Black Mountain. Through that initial email, Ann has become Facebook friends with several ladies from the Colorado Pulpwood Queens book club chapter.
That is one of the great things about Girlfriend Weekend (other than the boas and tiaras). Writer meets reader. One can never go wrong when emerged in a room of book lovers.
Because this was my first year I wasn’t aware that Kathy presents a Pulpwood Queen, or entire chapter, with an aptly titled KAT award. The diamond-shaped ruby-colored prize represents a passion for literacy. This year’s award went to Alyse Urice. Alyse stepped up to the mic and delivered an acceptance speech that brought tears to my eyes.
She explained how her non-profit, Literacy and Hope, began when her daughter wanted to rescue unwanted library books from being destroyed. This is a gal after my own heart, I thought. (Remember, I rescue flowers on the highway).
Then Alyse shared her next vision: providing books to children on a Native American reservation in her home state. It seemed Miss Alyse has what I would call a God-planted gift. She believes books heal. She sees people others overlook. Miss Alyse, far from being wealthy, awakens each day and recites these words What You Can. Where You Are. Everyday.
I don’t know about you, but those words are mighty powerful. Let’s repeat them again…slower this time.
What You Can.
Where You Are.
I’m not a wealthy author. Heck, my first book is no longer in print. I’m not on the New York Times Bestsellers List (yet). But I can do something. Today. What I can do is encourage the ladies of Alyse’s chapter. For you see, I learned after speaking to Alyse, that these women are members of the STRIDE program. These are homeless women, working mothers who through no fault of their own found themselves down on their luck. They call themselves The Homecoming Queens. These ladies aren’t seeking a hand out; they just need a little time to get on their feet.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve needed a little time to get on my feet…haven’t you?
Some of these women have been abused, some have fought cancer, and some are scared. So as Alyse shared stories from her Chapter, God pricked my heart. I would encourage the Queen by teaching them to journal their stories. I collect journals; stack them in towers; caress them; seek comfort in the blank pages. And you know what? The stacks of journals I had in my dresser drawer weren’t doing me one bit of good. So I placed them in a box. But the box wasn’t full. Then, that still small voice whispered, Toss in the Sketchbook Journal.
For the record, I covet,– more than anything in this world– the gift of drawing. Alas, I don’t have it which is why my note read.
Someone in your group has the ability to draw. God told me so. This journal is for her
After including a list of journal prompts, I included a book titled Let the Journey Begin then typed a note filled with personal things that I have never shared with anyone.
I cried a bit too. It felt good. The Homecoming Queens, these ladies, these strangers, are my confidants. They know my heart. Like me, (and you) they are on a journey. Can you see me on the path? I’m lagging way behind the Pulpwood Homecoming Queens. As my rural Appalachian people would say, those ladies are plowing the road and keeping it hot.
Aren’t you excited to see where they will end?
I share this not to toot my own horn, but to challenge you to do What You Can. Where You Are. Everyday. For those who, like me, feel a heart-tug, please visit the Literacy and Hope website here and make a monetary contribution.
Where You Are, (please) Do What You Can.
Renea Winchester is an award-winning author. Her next book: In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches will be released soon. She loves hearing from readers at www.reneawinchester.com
Someone said the “S” word…snow; then they said the “I” word…ice. Snow and ice are forecast along the route I will travel today. Leaving Atlanta is precarious on the best day. Traveling becomes ridiculously complicated when the roads are wet and the clouds threaten to spit frozen balls on your windshield.
I would be lying if I said I’m not nervous. Readers of this blog know that above everything else, I am honest when baring my emotions.
To be selected as a Pulpwood Queen pick is a dream. Few meet her standards. While some believe my life as an author is glamorous, in reality I am just like any other person who must travel away from their family. Being an author is hard work…very hard work. I have never been this far away from my family and we are all hurting even before I pull away from the house. The weather does little to ease any apprehension.
Perhaps that is why the Good Lord placed Ann Hite in my path. It’s not popular these days to suffer separation anxiety while away from your family. In fact, most people relish the opportunity for a night out. But for me a night out is best enjoyed with loved ones. I spend enough time alone, inside, just the computer and my characters who oft refuse to share their stories.
That being said, Ann and I are torn. Yes we will miss our family, but our readers are also family. We love meeting them. Love telling them secrets about our characters, hearing readers input, receiving emails and hugs from those who love our characters as much as we do. This emotional contact with our readers is what moves us forward. Without meeting them, Ann and I would give up…stop writing…stay home curled in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate. We might even eat bonbons (the fantasy food some folk think authors consume).
So today, with the clouds bending low, we have packed our suitcases, our costume jewelry and our hats. We are Texas bound, excitedly so. I’ve done a bit of research about Jefferson Texas. According to Wiki, Jefferson is a metropolis when compared to my hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina. I can’t speak for Ann, but I’m a small town girl, eager to visit the tiny town of Jefferson Texas. In my heart I know that the citizens will wrap their arms around me and welcome me home.They will say, like my grandpa often did, step up here and give me a hug; that is why I will leave my Georgia family and head west…because my Texas family is waiting for me with open arms.
Renea Winchester is an award winning author of In the Garden with Billy. She is represented by Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency. In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Fords & Friend Bologna Sandwiches will be released soon. Until then, please visit the Facebook page and “Like it” to keep up to date on the happenings at Billy’s.
Photo credit: Rhonda Perry via Facebook
This year I was invited to attend the 13th annual Pulpwood Queen Gathering. For those who aren’t familiar with this club, Queen Kathy Patrick works tirelessly to promote authors (both first-time and veteran). She created a book club that is the world’s largest; and, she owns the only hair salon/bookstore in the country.
She’s a powerhouse, that’s for certain.
Queen Kathy asked authors to contribute something personal for the silent auction which raises money for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For weeks, I’ve pondered what to donate. Partnering with Botanical Interests and Nelson’s Grow-N-Thrive Plant Food, I assembled a basket. The folk at Botanical Interests generously donated an exquisite 2013 calendar and many packets of seeds, a partial list is below:
Basil, Beans, Carrots, Chives, Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Radish, Spinach, Tomatoes (multiple varieties). In the flower category, the basket includes: Bells of Ireland, Calendula, Marigold, Nasturtium, and Sunflowers…just to mention a few.
Even as I type this Spring Fever begins to bubble up inside of me.
Those items, as lovely as they are (and they are lovely) aren’t “personal.” Yes, I only use Botanical Interests seeds and Grow-N-Thrive Plant Food which is why I want to introduce them to you, but readers want to bid on something more personal.
For that, I headed to the pantry. Where I come from, nothing is more personal than homegrown goodies. I gathered into my arms a jar of Bread & Butter pickles, Dilly Beans, Tomatoes, Grape Jelly (made with grapes from the historic Hembree Farm) and a jar of Dry Rub using a top-secret recipe Mr. Thomas recently shared with me.
I squeezed all of this into a basket which I have used at Billy’s Farm. Then I placed a tiny cornhusk angel inside the basket, wrestled the crinkly wrapping around everything and tied the bow.
Re-reading Queen Kathy’s instructions I panicked for a moment when I learned that my donation needed to be autographed.
This is who I am. This is how I give some of myself to you. Whoever wins this basket will receive delicious goodness grown without pesticides and stored without preservatives.
I can’t wait to meet all the readers in Jefferson Texas next week. For those who are on Facebook, please visit the page I created titled In the Garden with Billy. Please “Like” the page and share the page. As always, I hope you enjoy your time spent in the garden with us.
Renea Winchester is an award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes and Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author.
Renea is represented by Sullivan Max Literary Agency. In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches will be released soon. She is working on her first novel titled Outbound Train. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com
Having my work selected by the Pulpwood Queen has been my dream since the release of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes. I knew that given the chance Queen Kathy Patrick, founder of the largest book club in the world, would fall in love with Billy Albertson just like I, and countless others had.
Kathy not only loves books, she loves baby chicks which was why I sent her a copy of In the Garden.
A month passed, then another, until finally I shelved the dream of being picked.
If I’ve learned anything during this journey as an author it is to never, ever give up. During the summer as I sliced cucumbers and boiled the brine to pour my thoughts returned to the Pulpwood Queen. I was working on Billy’s sequel titled In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Fords & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. (more baby chicks, and this time…recipes). Perhaps I would bring jars of pickles to events as door prizes. I thought the same when slicing jalapeno peppers for the pepper jelly and as I held my breath and mixed the spice rub ingredients.
Then came the news, Kathy selected In the Garden with Billy as a Pulpwood Queen pick. The news came during one of those dark times, one filled with self-doubt. As tears pricked my eyes I felt like Sally Field: Kathy liked me, she really liked me.
Or the baby chicks…it mattered not.
Kathy asks all authors to donate a personal item, autographed if possible, to her annual Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson Texas. This item is auctioned off with proceeds benefiting a cause dear to all of our hearts, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. And while being on a panel with New York Times Bestselling authors is a bit daunting, the basket I have assembled is fit for a queen.
It is filled with love and appreciation. Readers will bid on jars of Dilly Beans, Bread and Butter Pickles, Grape Jelly made with grapes from the historic Hembree Farm, and a jar of Spice Rub from Georgia’s own, Mr. Thomas. But that’s not all…tune in later for an image of the basket and a complete list of everything inside.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes.
She is represented by Sullivan Max Literary Agency. In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming Fords & Fried Bologna Sandwiches will be released in 2013. Until then, she is hard at work at her first novel. Friend her on Facebook at: In the Garden with Billy, or visit her at www.reneawinchester.com
Pearlene Parker, a character in my work in progress, was 800 words into telling me a story about her childhood when I succumbed to guilt. Reluctantly turning away from my manuscript, I joined my beloved who had begun 2013 with an office cleaning frenzy that bordered on rabidity. Accumulated in boxes behind me were electronics, cables, video games, computer discs and heaven knows what else stated for Goodwill. The beloved wanted to begin 2013 with a clean office.
For the record, most of my work is written first in longhand. Imagine a workspace filled with stacks, piles, random sheets of paper, multicolored sticky notes, and books…lots of books, in my corner of our shared office. (Imagine it because I will not post a picture). This is how God made me. Longhand works best because I can tuck a notebook into my pocket and head outside where true inspiration is found. Also, in my defense, my space is particularly cluttered because I don’t have a “desk” per say, but a table, sans drawers. I love the table because I am short and it is a perfect fit for my short body. Drawers would, at least, provide an area by which I could shovel everything into. While I must have clutter, the beloved would strongly prefer, pretty please, a clean workspace. I’ve been told that my table is brown, but I digress…
On the first day of 2013, I didn’t clean my workspace, but kindly asked Pearlene to finish her story at a later date, preferably today as the longer she remains silent the more agonizing the process of writing. Pearlene took the first day of the year off while I cleaned out the foyer closet.
Yes, I realize this is the tiniest room in the house, but bear with me.
Like most closets, the space is a dumping ground of seldom-used items. The shredder is there, boxes of newspapers for recycling, coats that I’m going to “one day” find a loving home. There are also filled storage boxes which I site as undeniable proof that I can, in fact, organize items.
I have a particular method when organizing; remove everything, sort, return. I assemble each item in stacks classified as: save, donate, trash. During the first few minutes I was a New-Year organizing machine making short work of a closet so filled one could barely close the door. Then I discovered several items that stopped everything.
The glove was once pure white, but as with most children white stays clean for about two seconds. My son wore this glove, years before I joined the family and had the opportunity to watch him play. His leather baseball glove rested in the corner of the closet beside two collapsed basketballs. Flecks of field had separate from cleats and wedged in the cracks of the wood floor. Pressing the gloves to my heart I began to cry. I mourned my son’s absence, the wasted time that evaporated at a rapid click, the times I failed him as a parent, knowing not how to connect to a young man whom I didn’t not birth. Hope-filled pangs pressed against my breast as I recalled the times I saw potential in him when he could not, the short conversations of encouragement when I pushed him to be better than even he thought he could be. The times I encouraged him to be what he wanted to be, not what his parents wanted. Were those brief moments of offered encouragement enough? I wept also because I am proud. Proud that he is on the winning side of his challenges, even though it means he lives far away in another state, even though it means his father and I rarely see him.
Then I found his kindergarten t-shirt. I shall never know why it was in the foyer closet. Carrying it into the office, I wordlessly displayed the stained garment to his father. Fighting a quivering chin, “I just can’t take this,” was all I managed to say before rushing to the bathroom to blow my nose.
Oh, my heart.
After talking myself through that brief emotional breakdown I continued with the project.
Another glove, this time my daughter’s. Each fingertip was stained, the pink threads faded to an unappealing drab shade. Touching these gloves, the ones that had formed snowballs and barely kept the frostbite away, pierced my already delicate heart. I replayed images of tiny balls of snow, sticking to the threads; the feeling of snow stinging the back of my neck as she struck her target. Quickly, I cast aside the box. No more. I could not take another memory of my children’s tiny hands that have grown too fast.
Grabbing a bucket, I scrubbed the floor, removed the remnants of dust and dirt that had accumulated from roller blades, cleats, snow boots. Sorting the items in an orderly fashion, I returned the coats when I knocked over a small cardboard box hidden just inside the closet door. Inside was a Cheer Bear umbrella (the one with a rainbow on her tummy) and the storage container for the Ladybug Tent.
As my Aunt Della would say, “Help my time.”
Cheer Bear (whom my daughter called Rainbow Bear) is responsible for keeping everyone happy with her optimistic views. At that moment I needed a little bit of cheer. The ladybug tent was a shrine, plain and simple. Erected in the living room, the front porch, the yard and even on “real” adventures such as camping with friends, the ladybug tent was a haven for my daughter. A place where she and her friends could giggle and dream zipped up tight and hidden away from their parents. This discovery was more than my already fragile heart could bear. What I really wanted was to find a new ladybug tent and assemble it in the living room like we had so many years ago. Or close the door and sit inside the closet beneath the coats. I know my beloved just shook his head at me who couldn’t even clean out ONE closet without falling into a weepy pile of memories. But I needed to cry, for what I really don’t know, other than the passing of time and the reality that my baby will soon be sixteen.
Six-teen. How is that possible?
I wonder, did my parents feel this loss, this overwhelming concern that I feel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my children to live with us forever, but I do want them to have a good life…better than mine and I worry about their future. I wonder, have I done everything I possibly could for my children? I believe that I have, but it is the uncertainty of their future that causes great angst. The tiny hands that once filled the gloves are stepping into a world of uncertainty, one people won’t love them like their momma and daddy.
More than ever before, I pray. Each night I pray for both of my children. I pray they will make wise choices, that God will protect them in this world. I pray He will place people in their lives who will be a good influence and that they will take His hand and lean on Him for guidance. What more can I do?
I didn’t throw away the gloves, the umbrella, and certainly not the bag which once held the ladybug tent. I couldn’t. I guess longing for the past-joys of dusty cleats and afternoons in the ladybug tent comes with being a parent.
Parents, please share your stories. What do you miss most? What items do you refuse to throw out?
Renea Winchester is an award-winning author. Her latest book, In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches will be released in 2013. She is currently working on her first novel, Outbound Train. She welcomes subscribers to her blog and new Facebook Friends.