My word, I am in tears at this delightful French review of Outbound Train, “Rails”
Renea Winchester’s novel is not about failure and the condition of its characters is far from inevitable.
Confronted with life’s difficulties soon enough, these three women will learn to react, to get up, and to fight so that those who will follow do not suffer the same evils.
«1976, Bryson City, petite ville ouvrière des Appalaches de Caroline du Nord. De l’autre côté des rails, à l’écart de la ville, trois générations de femmes luttent ensemble pour joindre les deux bouts. Mamie Pearlene perd un peu la tête. Barbara part tous les jours à l’usine pour coudre des vêtements qu’elle ne pourra jamais s’offrir. Carole Anne est encore au lycée, mais travaille en cachette pour s’enfuir un jour vers un avenir meilleur. Elle ignore que Barbara avait autrefois caressé le même rêve, et qu’il s’était brisé en une seule nuit. Grandir du mauvais côté des rails prédestine-t-il à courir après le rêve américain sans jamais l’atteindre ? La mère réussira-t-elle à faire taire le passé quand sa fille sera portée disparue ? Renea Winchester brosse ici trois beaux portraits de femmes fortes, dont les parcours de vie semés d’embûches nous tiennent en haleine.»
There’s a chapter in the novel, Outbound Train, where Granny Pearlene uses cakes as currency. I grew up with this type of bartering system which is why I incorporated it into my novel. The women in my family were known for their ability to cook bountiful meals which always included a made-from-scratch cake for dessert. It was common to find Appalachian women in the kitchen on Saturday night, making a pound cake, which typically included a pound of butter, flour, sugar, eggs.
Cakes were made on Saturday because the most delicious pound cake is one that sets overnight beneath glass cake pan. This allows the cake to re-absorb any moisture that would evaporate while the cake cools. I suppose women tired of plain pound cake, because in typical Appalachian fashion, the women in my family collected black walnuts (folk call it “wild-harvested” or “foraged”) and relished in adding them to cakes They also made a delicious black walnut ice cream, which we served on plain pound cakes, but I digress.
I grew up with two types of black walnut cakes: the “pound cake” variety, baked in a Bundt pan, and the “layered cake” with cream cheese frosting.
We used black walnuts because that is the only nut-tree common in our mountains. We couldn’t afford pecans, which grow abundantly in the Southern most part of the US. Black walnuts shouldn’t be confused with what we call “English walnuts.” Ours are tangy and strong due in part to an abundance of oil in the meat of the nut. While English walnuts can be used in this recipe, the strength of the black walnut can’t be duplicated.
As a child, my brother and I would wait at the bus stop beneath two gigantic black walnut trees at the edge of the road. We had a job while waiting, rolling the green-husked walnuts into the tire path with our feet so Poppa would drive over them each evening at precisely 4:40 pm when he returned from work. We knew better than to position the walnuts with our fingertips. Black walnut husks have been used for decades as ink and dye. No one has ever mastered the art of collecting black walnuts without wearing stained fingertips for weeks after.
After Poppa’s truck rattled across the walnuts, mother steered a wheelbarrow to the end of the driveway and donned bright pink Palmolive dishwashing gloves. She tossed the green husks aside and collected the nuts. That was phase one of the harvesting process. From there, she positioned the nuts on a piece of tin and let them dry in the sun. Once dry, a much longer phase two began: each night she and Poppa would sit in the floor; they each had a rock, or sometimes a brick, and a hammer. There’s a certain way one holds a walnut to crack it, and before you go buying a “nutcracker,” no human has ever created one tough enough to crack an Appalachian walnut. You need a hammer, a rock, patience, and perhaps a Magnavox television playing the nightly news with Walter Chronkite.
That’s how it was done when I was a kid. After doing the “hard part,” of cracking the exterior shell, my parents passed the broken nuts to me or my brother. We used a tiny hook to remove any pieces of the nut-meat that remained. We did this as a family and it was an honorable thing to do. As kids we didn’t complain when our parents asked us to do something; we had pride that they trusted we were capable.
Back to Saturday in the kitchen:
My mother didn’t exactly write out all her recipes so I was delighted to discover one in her recipe book. You see, the publisher in France wanted to know if the cakes in Outbound Train were real. If so, was I willing to share with her readers?
Y’all ! French chefs are considered the best in the world and she asked me to share our simple walnut cake used with nuts we pick up at the end of the road. Note: The FRENCH Translation of this blog post appears at the end of this post.
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar ( I use a mixture of white cane sugar, and light turbinado sugar). You can not use dark brown sugar in this recipe
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup black walnuts
1 cup milk: Mother would use whole milk. Not cream, and never 2%
Eggs were always kept at room temperature at my house. This is a tradition I continue, because I am fortunate enough to have a small flock of hens.
The process: Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Cream butter and sugar together
Add eggs and mix slowly
Add 1 cup flour and the baking powder
Add another cup of flour
And then the milk
Add the final cup of flour
And the vanilla
Add the walnuts
The pan: A Bundt pan is absolutely imperative in the success of this cake. I use my mother’s plain cake pan. She had “fancy” pans, with scalloped ridges, and designs. However, I grew up with simple cakes and I like to honor that memory. Granny Pearlene most certainly did not own a fancy pan.
My job as a child was to spread Crisco (or butter) on the bottom of the pan and then sprinkle a tablespoon of flour on the bottom, tapping the pan until flour covered the surface. Mother wanted to make sure the cake wouldn’t stick. Hers rarely did. Mine rarely come out intact.
Using a Bundt pan means bakers run the risk of having a lovely brown top and an unbaked center. Sometimes you may need to cover the top of the cake with aluminum foil and then use the “toothpick test.” (It used to be a broom straw test when I was growing up. We didn’t have toothpicks). What this means is you stick a toothpick into the center of the cake and remove it. If the toothpick has batter on it, then it isn’t finished. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
My “Granny Winchester’s” Sunday table featured a pound cake every single Sunday until she stopped baking. Her favorite was a caramel apple cake. She also adored a pineapple pound cake. Just typing this makes me want to bake a caramel apple.
Don’t you miss the days of Sunday pound cakes. Tell me, what was your favorite?
Regardless of what Appalachian women added to the simple pound cake, we always had the pleasure of enjoying it with those we love.
Renea Winchester is the of Outbound Train, which released in April 2021 in France titled On the Other Side of the Tracks.
La pâtisserie comme monnaie d’échange : le gâteau aux noix de Mamie Pearlene
Dans le roman De l’autre côté des rails, Mamie Pearlene utilise ses gâteaux comme monnaie d’échange.
Petite, j’ai connu ce système de troc, et je l’ai incorporé à mon roman. Les femmes de ma famille étaient connues pour leurs merveilleux repas. Ils comprenaient toujours un gâteau fait-maison pour le dessert. Les femmes des Appalaches passaient souvent leur samedi soir en cuisine pour préparer le pound cake, préparé avec une livre (pound) de beurre, 1 livre de farine, une livre de sucre, des œufs. Les gâteaux étaient préparés le samedi car les meilleurs pound cakes sont ceux qui ont reposé toute la nuit sous une cloche en verre. Cela permet au gâteau de réabsorber l’humidité qui se serait sinon évaporée pendant la phase de refroidissement.
Je suppose que les femmes se sont lassées de la recette de base du pound cake. Comme cela se pratiquait couramment dans les Appalaches, les femmes de ma famille ramassaient les noix noires (les gens d’ici parlent de « récoltes sauvages » ou bien de « cueillettes ») et elles les ont délicieusement ajouté à leurs gâteaux. Elles préparaient également une succulente crème glacée aux noix noires, que l’on servait avec les pound cakes, mais je m’éloigne du sujet. Quand j’étais petite, il y avait deux sortes de gâteaux aux noix : le « pound cake » aux noix, cuit dans un moule à kouglof, et le « gâteau multicouche » et son glaçage au cream cheesse.
Les femmes des Appalaches utilisaient des noix noires car c’est le seul arbre à noix qui soit courant dans nos montagnes. Nous ne pouvions pas nous permettre d’acheter des noix de pécan, qui poussent en abondance dans la plupart des États du sud. Les noix noires ne doivent pas être confondues avec ce que nous appelons les noix anglaises. Les nôtres ont un goût acidulé et prononcé, en partie dû à la forte concentration en huile au cœur de la noix.
Quand nous étions enfants, mon frère et moi attendions le bus sous deux énormes noyers qui poussaient au bord de la route. Tout en attendant le bus, nous avions pour mission de faire rouler l’enveloppe verte des noix sur les traces de roues pour que Papa roule dessus à 4h40 précises, tous les soirs, en revenant du travail. On savait bien qu’il ne fallait pas le faire avec les doigts. L’écorce de noix noire est utilisée depuis des décennies pour faire de l’encre et de la teinture. Personne n’a jamais réussi à ramasser ces noix sans garder les doigts tâchés pendant des semaines.
Une fois que la camionnette de Papa était passée sur les noix, ma mère poussait sa brouette jusqu’au bout de l’allée puis enfilait ses gants de vaisselle Palmolive rose. Elle jetait les enveloppes vertes sur le côté et ramassait les noix. C’était la phase une de la récolte. Elle plaçait ensuite les noix sur une plaque métallique et les laissait sécher au soleil. Après le séchage démarrait la phase deux, beaucoup plus longue : tous les soirs, Maman et Papa s’asseyaient par terre. Ils prenaient un caillou, parfois une brique, ainsi qu’un marteau.
Avant d’envisager l’achat d’un “casse-noix”, il faut savoir qu’il y a une façon de tenir la noix pour la casser. Ne perdez pas votre temps à chercher un outil du commerce pour vous faciliter la tâche. Aucun humain n’en a créé un qui soit assez solide pour casser une noix des Appalaches. Il vous faut un marteau, un gros caillou, de la patience, et peut-être une télévision Magnavox et les nouvelles du soirs par Walter Cronkite.
C’est comme ça qu’on faisait quand j’étais petite. Nous cassions les noix en regardant la télévision. Après avoir fait « le plus difficile », craquer la coquille, mes parents nous donnaient les noix, à moi et à mon frère. Nous utilisions un crochet minuscule pour retirer les derniers petits morceaux de cerneaux. Nous faisions cela en famille et c’était une chose honorable. Enfants, nous ne nous plaignions pas quand nos parents nous demandaient de faire quelque chose ; nous étions fiers d’être dignes de leur confiance.
Mais retournons maintenant dans la cuisine, les samedis soirs :
Ma mère n’écrivait pas vraiment toutes ses recettes et j’ai été ravie d’en découvrir une dans son carnet de recettes. L’éditrice française voulait savoir si les gâteaux du roman existaient. Et si j’étais d’accord pour les partager avec les lecteurs.
Les chefs français sont considérés comme les meilleurs du monde et elle m’a demandé de partager notre petit gâteau, confectionné avec les noix que nous ramassions au bout de la route.
Voici la recette :
3 mesures de farine
2 mesures de sucre (j’utilise un mélange de sucre de canne blanc et de sucre turbiné). On peut aussi utiliser du sucre brun
1 mesure de beurre ramolli
2 cuillérées à café de levure
1 mesure de noix
1 mesure de lait : ma mère utilisait du lait entier. Pas de crème et jamais de lait écrémé.
1 cuillérée à café de vanille liquide
Les oeufs étaient toujours conservés à température ambiante. C’est une tradition que je perpétue, car j’ai la chance d’avoir quelques poules. Et nous avons plutôt la main lourde sur la vanille.
Marche à suivre :
Préchauffer le four à 180°C
Mélanger le beurre et le sucre
Ajouter les œufs et mélanger doucement
Ajouter une mesure de farine et la levure
Ajouter une autre mesure de farine puis le lait
Ajouter la dernière mesure de farine
Verser dans le moule et cuire à 180 °C pendant 45 min à 1h. Jusqu’à ce que le cure-dent ressorte propre.
Le moule :
il est impératif de disposer d’un moule à kouglof pour réussir ce gâteau. J’ai utilisé le moule à pound cake tout simple de ma mère. Elle possédait aussi des moules «fantaisie », ornés et festonnés. Mais j’ai toujours connu des gâteaux simples et je voulais faire honneur à ce souvenir.
Enfant, ma tâche était d’étaler la margarine Crisco (ou le beurre) au fond du moule puis de saupoudrer la farine dans le fond à l’aide d’une grosse cuillère, en tapotant le moule pour qu’elle recouvre la surface. Ma mère voulait être sûre que le gâteau n’adhérerait pas. Les siens collaient rarement. Les miens sortent rarement intacts.
L’utilisation d’un moule à kouglof fait courir le risque au pâtissier d’avoir le dessus doré comme si le gâteau était cuit, sans que le cœur soit assez cuit. Il faut parfois recouvrir le dessus d’une feuille d’aluminium puis faire le « test du cure-dent ». (Quand j’étais petite c’était le test de la paille de balais). Ça veut dire qu’il faut piquer à l’intérieur du gâteau puis retirer le cure-dent. S’il ressort recouvert de pâte, c’est que la cuisson n’est pas terminée. S’il ressort propre, le gâteau est cuit.
Quoiqu’il en soit, ne laissez JAMAIS refroidir le gâteau dans le moule. Une fois le gâteau cuit, il faut le sortir du four, le laisser reposer 5 min, puis passer un couteau fin entre le moule et le gâteau. Renverser sur un plat et recouvrir immédiatement. Servir le lendemain.
Sur la table de « Mamie Winchester », il y avait un pound cake tous les dimanches. Son préféré était le pound cake au caramel et aux pommes. Elle adorait également le pound cake à l’ananas.
Quel est votre pound cake préféré ?
Peu importe ce que nous ajoutions à la recette de base du pound cake, nous avions toujours le plaisir de le déguster avec ceux que nous aimions.
Renea winchester est l’auteure d’Outbound Train : Firefly Southern Fiction April 2020 ;
sorti en France en avril 2021 sous le titre De l’autre côté des rails.
When Renea Winchester’s novel, Outbound Train, debuted, she never imagined an international release. Then an email arrived: “I’m Marie. I’ll be working with you on the translation for Outbound Train.”
“I was so humbled I couldn’t stop crying,” Winchester said. “2020 was tough. Outbound Train had a great first week in the US because it launched ahead of the shutdown. With everyone worrying about a life-threatening pandemic, writers struggled. Having Outbound Train release in France this year is more than I could have ever dreamed. I only wish I could be there when it happens.”
The path to an international release came by way of a meeting in the low country of South Carolina when the publisher attended a conference intent on securing southern authors. There she learned about debut novelist Renea Winchester. After asking Firefly Southern Fiction to review the manuscript, Outbound Train was selected for publication.
“We are committed to bringing strong Southern Voices to French Readers,” Publisher Marie Bx writes.
“For me, this good news couldn’t have come at a better time. Honestly, I have been so depressed. Sales of Outbound Train have been abysmal. The pandemic hit me hard. I am hopeful the US sales of Outbound Train will pick-up. As you know, it’s hard to find an agent with low book sales.”
Winchester now had good news and something to focus her attention on . . . the translation process.
“Appalachians have their own language. I worried some of Granny Pearlene’s sayings and the Parker women’s strength would be lost in translation. I needn’t worried. Marie had no questions during the translation process. She adored Granny Pearlene and even asked for a copy of my mother’s recipe for apple stack cake to share with French readers.”
Like most publishers, having an appealing cover is essential. “I focused on the car Carole Anne needed to leave Bryson City,” Marie writes. “I wanted the artist to get that right.”
“I am in love with the cover. It captures the reader’s attention. There is no greater honor than knowing a young artist created the cover with her own hands. This process deeply humbles me. Seeing the cover thrilled my heart,” Winchester said. I love it
Winchester recorded a short video expressing her appreciation, which is features on the publishers Facebook Page.
The title, “Outbound Train”, was the only translation snag. Editions Le Nouveaux Pont proposed a new title: De l’atre cote des rails, On the Other Side of the Tracks, releases April, 15, 2021.”I adore the title: It perfectly describes the Parker women’s life which was on the “other” side of the tracks.”
Outbound Train is available wherever books are sold.
Almost two months have passed and the tears still come.
Sorrowful drops splatting on my keyboard while I type.
I’m not ready to share images of us together at conferences and festivals. They are sacred.
Locked in the vault. As were all our conversations, whispered with our heads pressed together like kindergartners avoiding naptime. It’s an honor being considered a vault, a place where your mentor can relax, speak truths.
Terry Kay was more than a mentor, he was my friend. I loved him.
There, I said it. I loved him. I was not alone. If you knew him, you loved him.
I sought his approval. I listened and heeded his advice: “Renea, keep writing.”
My debut novel would still be under the bed were it not for Terry Kay. I didn’t want to let him down. If Terry took the time to invest in you then you tried to live up to his expectations.
He called after reading my debut novel, Outbound Train. He’d read my non-fiction works, but it was his encouragement to transition to fiction that fueled me. I listened as his voice rich and healthy, full of glorious encouragement said, “This is Terry.”
That was all it took. I began to cry.
“Now don’t you go telling anyone about our talk. Not a soul, or I’ll have every writer in Georgia mad at me . . .” he paused for effect, for he’s spent a bit of time on the stage. “Girl, you can write.”
I couldn’t breathe. The Emmy-Award-Winning, author, liked my novel. He not only liked it, he called to tell me so. He gifted me his time. (The rest of our conversation is pressed into the pages of my journal. Bury me with those words, for they sustain me still).
“It’s unfortunate Covid will kill this novel. No one will see it, you know that don’t you?” His voice had softened and took on the caress of a father kissing away tears of his daughter. I nodded. He was right.
“I am deeply sorry. You did everything right.”
I curled around the phone and sobbed. As I am now, pouring out my soul to you, the readers who sustain me.
“But, you can’t look behind you. You can’t look at what could have been. You’ve written one novel. It’s under your belt. You must get to work writing another.” His voice had changed to a velvety drill-sergeant. “Stay off Facebook. Start writing. Keep writing. Get an agent.”
+ + +
My friend’s life became measured in moments that no longer included me. Still, I vowed to write. To write Terry daily, until I became worried his family would deem me a stalker; I decreased the letters to three a week.
I wanted to call, more than anything in the world I wanted to hear his voice. But I understand how cancer robs the most valuable currency: time with loved ones.
I continued writing, praying someone would read my letters to him. I know he received them because he messaged me, “receiving letters, too weak to respond.”
I wrote about the first time we met at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference. How he’d picked me out of the crowd and said, his voice strong and confident, “You are a writer.”
Terry Kay made me believe I was a writer. No other writer supported fledgling writers like Terry. My experience wasn’t isolated, although when you were with him he always made you feel like you were the only writer in the world. We owe him everything. We craved his encouragement and discipline.
We needed Terry Kay to live forever.
And so the letters continued, hopeful-ever hopeful- for a healing, a miracle, or perhaps a letter postmarked from Athens, Georgia.
But no letter came.
It was selfish of me to hope for one last letter, a final email. He’d already sacrificed so much of his time for me, a nothing, a wannabe who sat at the feet of a master and licked crumbs that tumbled from the table. He’d given his time to readers, to writers and we’d devoured it like candy, then held out sticky hands begging for more.
The world could not get enough of Terry Kay.
As much as we loved him, his family loved him first, loved him more than we could imagine. To the Kay family, I am forever grateful for your gift, for the generosity in which you shared Terry with us.
Enough has been written about Terry Kay the writer. If you attended readings you’ve heard him recite While Reading.I link it here because the words are powerful. You should read it. Print it out.
You should read. Any book, any genre, worthy of your time, read it. Lesser known authors; read them first. Support those struggling to find a place at the literary table.
My favorite section: While reading, I have climbed mountains lost in clouds.
While reading, I’ve become people I cannot be, doing things I cannot do. And I do not know of any other experience that could have given me such a life—Terry Kay.
If you read any book this year, please pick up a copy of The Book of Marie. Today, I’m choosing to support Adventure Bound Books, a tiny bookstore in rural North Carolina who could really use your help. Call them at 828-475-6955 or text 828- 782-3358. Honor Terry today by placing an order with them, or Mercer University Press.
Happy Birthday Terry in heaven. You are missed, and shall never, ever be forgotten.
Photos taken from Terry’s Website and other public domains.
Order Renea’s debut novel at any of the following links, or through Adventure Bound Books
When 2020 began, I knew it would be a hard year. In order for my debut novel, Outbound Train, to be successful, I had to remain eyes-forward, focused intently on doing everything within my power to promote my book. I lined up speaking engagements, booked events at Indie bookstores, and penciled in dates with my beloved book clubs. As April approached I was ready, every list complete, every box checked.
Then the corona virus struck and like many authors, I watched every single event canceled. I also watched a change in what we call “normal.” Outbound Train debuted at # 22 in Southern Fiction, an honor I owe to reader support. But, I also watched being “southern” become a bad thing, a terrible stereotype of racism and hate. This hurts not only me as a southern-born-woman, it hurts the career of every southern author. Yet, as I type this, folk are selling their homes as quickly as possible fleeing their city-life, hoping that living in the rural south will help them escape Covid-19.
Perhaps that is why the Western North Carolina Mountain towns are hotspots with cases five times that of the State Capital, but I digress.
I’ve watched 2020 become the year of complaining. We have become like the Israelites who complained about a 7-year journey. They didn’t like the food, didn’t like the journey, didn’t like their leader. They complained SO MUCH they became STUCK in the pit of complaining and it took the group 40 years to reach their destination. And yet here we are in 2020, on a journey where it seems no one has a kind word. Isn’t there anything good to talk about? Of course. We must purpose to speak life instead of negativity.
We ripped each other to shreds over politics and walked away from relationships because someone didn’t agree with us. Author Lisa Wingate said it best. My grandmother reminded me that she has never received a visit to her home from a single politician she’s ever voted for; which is why relationships with her friends and family matter more than WHO they vote for.
I get it, we’re tired, we are grieving, we are scared. Like many, I lost someone I love to this terrible virus, but it seems we have become so negative we hate every thing and every one around us! Friends, amidst the pain and the loss, in the longing to be together we have the BEST-ever opportunity to grow and change the life of another.
We’ve heard the phrase, “new normal” and we hate it. We want 2020 to be over and for life to return as it once was. In doing so we are wishing our lives away, we aren’t finding the good, and we aren’t being the good people need. Those living on the edge of despair need us. In this area 900 a month is the average rent for a run-down place. Fast food workers need us to slide a twenty across the counter. I see students every day whose lives who can’t make it to school, or work. Their lives would be changed with a gas card. The twenty dollars we waste on Bath & Body Candles (ok, I am preaching to myself here), is literally the difference between sleeping in a cold house and eating a nutritious meal for many people. Last week in the grocery store, I wanted to grab the microphone and give a shout out to every single worker in the store. They deserve a MEDAL for showing up to work every day as do bone-weary healthcare workers and law enforcement.
2020 wasn’t all bad. It simply wasn’t.
Elderberry-Tonic ready for you.
We became certified seed growers, growing heritage seeds so future generations can continue to grow their own food. We could have sold the land piecemeal like everyone else is, commanding an exorbitant price from someone from New Jersey or Atlanta, but we didn’t. Simply put, that dishonors our people and the land. Instead, we will work this land, using what she offers to heal ourselves and others. We have a long-term goal of teaching others about the way of the land with a plan to open an outdoor classroom in 2021. We believe the land isn’t best used as a lush green lawn, but as a teacher to those who are willing to listen. We will offer our little strip of country to limited number of herbalists who need a place to hold classes. The land has so much to teach us about ourselves and each other, but Mother Nature whispers only to those who listen.
And so as December arrives, we take each day as it comes, thankful for it, for each other, and for you. Find a blessing, and try to be a blessing, every single day.
Hello Beautiful Readers, Fall is almost here- ready or not- tis the season for pumpkin-spice everything. But in the Western North Carolina Mountains, we prefer apple cider and Barber’s Orchard in Waynesville, NC is my go-to place. Try a delicious cinnamon-sugar apple doughnut while you’re there. You’ll thank me later. Now that we’re all hungry, I’d like to share what I’m reading this month:
The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet:
No one delivers a story quite like Terry Kay. The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet is a story of two people who have known each other since high school. After graduation, Middy Sweet and Luke Mercer go their separate ways, only to have fate bring them back together 50 years later. Kay masterfully lures readers into this story in a way only a true romantic can. Recently widowed Middy is determined to reunite with Luke, who is also alone at this point in his life. Author, Terry Kay, has answered that nagging question many people have about their first loves . . . if given the opportunity would I reunite with my first love after so many years have passed?
Exciting News about Outbound Train Many readers know my passion for literacy runs deep. I am a strong supporter of libraries and literary events. After volunteering with the phenomenal Rose Glen Literary Festival for years, the Board extended an invitation for me to be Keynote Speaker this February. I’m still pinching myself. Years ago, members of the literary community backed this event which has grown annually. It is easily my favorite reader’s festival. As you can tell in the photo, this event is a READER’S dream. (For fun, see if you can find me in the photo by clicking this link). I can’t wait to tell everyone about Outbound Train and the strong women who come to life on the pages. Save the date. Come see me at Rose Glen. I will speak during the luncheon. Tickets are required for the luncheon. And, there are some amazing door prizes. This year, the Friends of the Library will decorate tables with books available for purchase. Of course, Outbound Train, will be available as will dozens of other authors.
Listen to Charlotte Reader’s Podcast:
On October 16, Charlotte Reader’s Podcast will feature Outbound Train. Click here to be notified when the podcast goes live.
Thank You Readers:
A heartfelt thank you to every reader who left a review for Outbound Train on Goodreads and Amazon. A review breathes life into this novel. Many people base purchasing decisions on reviews, which is one of many reasons every reader opinion counts. Reviews also show publishers I have an established audience. If you left a review, thank you for your time. If you haven’t, I NEED YOU.
Recently, someone told me, “I didn’t by a copy of Outbound Train because (on Facebook) it looks like you’re doing so well.”
I paused for a moment, not understanding the rationale behind the statement. Why would someone ever think I am doing so well that I don’t need help? At that moment I knew I needed to immediately clear up this misunderstanding, while not breaking the unwritten rule: Authors don’t talk about sales.
Today, I’m going to talk about sales during the time of COVID-19.
Outbound Train debuted at number 22 in Southern Fiction. Because I thought I knew how many books it took to receive that ranking, I was elated. The reality punched me square in the gut.
Five years ago, this ranking meant a novel sold approximately five to six hundred copies in a week.
Two years ago, this ranking meant a novel sold approximately two-three hundred copies in a week
This year, debuting at number 22 meant Outbound Train sold less than 25 copies in order to achieve this “high ranking.“
Fewer than twenty-five copies.
Here’s what authors are telling me behind the scenes:
Every day I try to find something good, a little bit of news I can post about my novel just to keep it in the public eye.
Everyone is on Facebook; it is saturated with videos about books.
I wish readers would write reviews.
I wish readers would tell their friends.
I wish readers would ask the library to order a copy of my book.
I wish someone would buy my book
What is going to happen to us?
But what I’m hearing most is the following: I’m going to take a year off, maybe two years and think about whether I’ll write again.
Authors have already seen changes to the way publishers do business. The shift began in March as publishing companies furloughed editors, halted the distribution of paper galleys to reviewers, and pushed back book release dates. Moving forward, many publishers will select future novels based on public interest (meaning more celebrity books, more conspiracy and pandemic books) [Source, Publisher’s Weekly]. Many Independent Authors, who struggle to find a place on this ever shifting platform, simply haven’t the energy – or the money–to invest in a book when a financial reward isn’t possible.
As the saying goes, “Don’t quit your day job.”
Pay attention to how many of your favorite authors have taken teaching positions, or who offer summer conferences. There’s the truth about publishing. Authors simply can not make a living in this business. Traditional publishing has always been difficult, but now debut novelists and those represented by small presses will not receive future contracts without good sales now.
So what’s an author to do? The only thing I know is to be honest with readers, which, as you know, has always been the case.
Outbound Train has received phenomenal support from readers. Some recommended Outbound Train to book clubs. (Thank You). Some readers have given copies away (Thank You). With so many unemployed, I realize people don’t have money to buy books right now. Did you know, you can recommend Outbound Train to your librarian?
However, that doesn’t solve the problem of those who think the book is so successful I don’t need their help. Friends, I need your help more than ever. Helping is so easy. Even if you haven’t read Outbound Train, even if you have no intention of reading it, even if you don’t read – at all – you can support me and other Indie authors by posing on your Social Media Platform. You can tell a friend. You can talk to your librarian.
Social media experts need only grab an image of the cover,and copy the following into your social media platform with the following words:
“Happy to see Renea Winchester’s debut novel, Outbound Train, available wherever books are sold.”
“Congratulations to Renea Winchester whose debut novel, Outbound Train was selected as a #SummerRead by famed reviewer, Dannye Powell.
Your friends who are readers, and are looking to discover a new writer, will see your post and boom, that’s how Outbound Train stays alive. That’s how all authors stay alive to write another book. Because at the end of the day, authors are also small businesses and we need your support.
As always, my success comes from readers telling other readers. And my gratitude is immeasurable and heartfelt. And as always, I welcome your thoughts about lifting the veil on the illusion of an author’s success.
Renea Winchester is an award-winning non-fiction author. After years of writing nonfiction, Outbound is her first novel and is available wherever books are sold.
My debut novel, Outbound Train, released a month ago. Since then so much has changed in our world. Maybe you’ve lost someone to COVID-19, maybe you are recovering from the virus. Many have been working from home for weeks while trying to figure out how to make sure their children complete school assignments. Meanwhile, grocery store employees, health care workers, first responders, law enforcement and other essential employees clock in every day. I have more respect for grocery store employees than ever, don’t you?
Friends, I miss seeing you and HUGGING you! Like every other author on the planet, all my book events canceled and- sadly- it looks like none will be rescheduled. You can’t go onto social media without being bombarded by authors desperate to sell their books. I feel their anxiety; I know what it feels like to watch a book die, a book you invested years into. At the same time, I just can’t join the herd. I simply do not have the energy. Yes, we are struggling, each in our own way and perhaps more than we care to admit, but we’re making it.
I would like to thank readers who ordered copies of Outbound Train, with a huge thanks to those who shared images and links via social media. Here in the backwoods of Western North Carolina, we’ve struggled with internet and so I am so grateful for those who have championed Outbound Train, because I had no internet. THANK YOU also to those who have written a review. Please-pretty-please-with sprinkles on top- leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. A review gives life to my novel. Readers have been so kind that on more than one occasion I’ve had to take myself to the woods and cry.
I have also heard from those who wanted to purchase a copy of Outbound Train, but experienced an unexpected job loss. My heart aches for you. I understand the fear that comes with unemployment. I have felt it first hand. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I promise things will get better.
Let’s be honest, we feel powerless don’t we? We feel like we should be “doing something.” This week I delivered free bottles of elderberry syrup to local rehab center, and to the nursing home. The deliveries made me feel like I was supporting healthcare workers, like I was part of the solution. Many friends have donated blood, or are sewing masks. Some are learning how to bake bread, preparing meals and leaving them on the doorsteps for the elderly. In rural areas, school buses deliver thousands of lunches every day. I daresay COVID-19 has caused a collective pause and prioritization. But with this pause has come an incredible opportunity to determine what’s important.
My goat, Frosty, believes reading is important. But, he’s just a goat . . . what does he know? haha
The ladies in Outbound Train knew what was important. They also knew about hardship and job loss. The Parker women purchased scraps and remnants from the factory where they worked and stitched them together into something useful, just like we are now. The women in Outbound Train were “make-do women” and it is not lost on me that we have a resurgence of sewing in America. The women in Outbound Train stared down challenges, just as we are. They survived and emerged stronger, as I believe we all shall.
And so today I want to pause and offer my heartfelt thanks to readers.
And if you want to know about the Setting for Outbound Train, please take moment to watch this quick video.
In the grand scheme of things my little novel won’t change the world. In fact, this week I determined I would let it quickly fade away into the sea of a million-other-newly-released-titles. And then a reader wrote, “I sent a copy of your book to my 88 year old aunt in assisted living. She loved it.” The email caused me to refocus and so I spent most of my advertising budget mailing free copies to Assisted Living Centers. Outbound Train is a good book that deserves an audience. I pray you will deem her worthy.
Here are other titles from authors who have written great books.
Jim Hamilton: If you have mountain blood coursing through your veins. If you have ever explored with your grandparents, or parents, The Last Entry is the book for you. Order directly though the author at his website. I highly recommend this book. Also, Jim (who is far too modest to tell you) has donated loads of books to underprivileged school children. In other words, he is the Mayor of Awesome Town.
Claire Fullerton writes about Memphis as only a Southern Belle can. In Little Tea she weaves a complex story of betrayal, a story of the past and the future. Written with a true southern dialogue.
Beth Kephart descends from a line of literary greatness. Yes, she is from the Horace Kephart lineage. I spent all night reading The Great Upending. My word! It is rare an author has the ability to lure me into a story like Kephart does with this children’s book.
Outbound Train is available wherever books are sold. Here are some helpful links to help you find a copy.
Who would have ever predicted most of us would be under a “stay at home,” order this spring. Hunkered down worried about jobs, about family members, about overworked healthcare workers; but here we are, pondering where we go from here.
I hesitate to write about the release of my debut novel because – honestly – in the grand scheme of things, what can my novel contribute to the world?
And then I remember the women in Outbound Train. How they also faced uncertainty. How they overcame violence, job loss and poverty in 1976. And as people across this incredible country sew masks for friends, family members and healthcare workers, I can’t help but reflect on Barbara Parker and her mother, Pearlene, how they sew unwanted scraps of fabric into something valuable. How the women in a tiny town called Bryson City, North Carolina learned to “made-do” when fear and uncertainty blanketed their every thoughs.
Isn’t that what we are doing right now? Aren’t we learning, or re-learning, how to “make-do,” with what we have?
That is why today, I proudly share the news about Outbound Train, because the story does matter. The women inside the pages of this novel mimic those who raised me. Perhaps they will remind you of your mother, of your grandmother, women who lifted their chins and stared a hardship square in the eye and double-dog-dared it to get the best of them. The woman who raised us never gave up. We won’t either.
That, my friends, is why I want you to read Outbound Train.
Now, more than ever, Independent Booksellers are struggling. Call your local bookseller today. Here are some links to order. And please, pretty please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.
Support your Indie Bookseller when you order through here.
If you’re new to my blog please read part one of this story here.
It wasn’t enough to sew the bookmarks, I quickly realized they missed something crucial, a way of identifying the book title. So I enlisted the help of Jeff Marley, knower of all things Heritage Arts. The Heritage Arts Center -located in Bryson City, North Carolina on Southwestern Community College’s Swain Campus- is filled with hidden resources. Known for housing a phenomenal pottery studio, many locals do not realize the Heritage Arts Center also offers printmaking classes. Today I’m pleased to write about one of the printing presses located there, the Challenge Proof Press.
Jeff took one look at my sewn-bookmark and in less than a minute sketched a prototype on a scrap piece of paper. His concept blew anything I could imagine off-world. We would print a tag complete with custom-blended ink.
Just the thought of touching a printing press gave me chills. The Heritage Arts Center houses two rolling print presses circa 1960s. Think back to when newspapers (and basically ALL forms of printed communication) were first “laid out” by teams of typesetters who literally selected every single letter and formed every single word which they “set” in the confines of a composing stick creating words BACKWARDS, before sending to press.
Jeff, who is wise in the ways of typesetting quickly realized the process overwhelmed me. I didn’t even know which font to select from the type case. The Heritage Arts Center has many California Job Cases filled with a variety of fonts including the Cherokee language. Read about the Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper here. Jeff grabbed several trays and placed them on the desk, a process that in-and-of-itself made me nervous because if the trays dropped, catastrophe!
After determining the best font, we used a California Job Case sheet, a key-chart that helps a modern-day typesetter locate appropriate letters within the tray.
With the wording NIART DNUOBTUO (Outbound Train) placed, I stepped aside and watched Jeff’s knowledge of the press began to shine. One simply can’t just place the letters onto the metal bed, you must secure them using wooden blocks, and in this case, wedge tiny slivers of metal (leading spacers) in place, and then secure everything with a tool. Trust me, when the mighty ink roller presses paper across those metal letters, the letters must hold.
God gifts some folk with an eye for color. Those who don’t need a color wheel to blend the absolute perfect shade. Jeff has that gift. After we talked about an ink color, Jeff scooped two globs from a jar and began blending. Friends, here is where I got a little worried. To my untrained eye, I thought the ink would be dark as pitch. There was a heap of black on the blending table, but like a baker making bread, Jeff folded the ink, pressed and turned it, working it like dough until the color was nothing short of perfection.
I almost cried.
Relying again upon his expertise, Jeff selected the appropriate-weighted paper which would accept the ink. We then cut the cards using a paper cutter weighing about 400-500 pounds. The blade sliced the paper like butter.
Then he applied ink to the press, flipped the switch and I watched ink disperse evenly
across the rollers. Soon, the silver rollers took on the rich maroon color. Apologies for the blurry image, there are a lot of moving parts in a printing press.
With the lettering and blocks in place, and the rollers ink ready, it was time to feed paper through the rollers. Falling into a rhythm, one must press a foot pedal with their left foot, feed paper under the clip, crank the roller toward the right, watch the machine press ink onto the paper, retrieve the finished product, and crank the roller back in place ready for another card. This techniques is repeated and quickly comes as easily as breathing.
Friends, this process is nothing short of sacred. Kinkos or Vista Print cannot, ever, compare.
We collected the tags, placed them on drying racks and as you can see, attached to the bookmarks, they are complete and especially lovely with the train “charms” gifted to me by a fantastic reader.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to press any more love into a handmade bookmark, do you?
Firefly Southern Fiction will release Outbound Train, April 1, 2020. Those who pre-order through their bookstore, or medium of choice, will receive a bookmark by emailing their receipt to reneawrites (@) gmail.com. Remember to remove the parenthesis ( ) when sending the email. It is placed here to prevent my email from being spammed.