Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, Terry Kay

Almost two months have passed and the tears still come.


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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.”

I nodded.

+ + +

Liver cancer.


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.

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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





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2020, in perspective

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.

With Poppa on the Farm
Book Reviews

Welcome Fall: Here’s What I’m Reading

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.

Outbound Train is available wherever books are sold. If you haven’t purchased a copy, here are some helpful links:
Your local Independent Bookseller can order Outbound Train at your request.
Ordering from this link donates a portion of all sales to an Indie Bookseller
Indie Bookseller
Direct from Publishe
From Walmart
From Barnes and Noble

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

The Illusion of Success

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,OutboundTrainand 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. ACharlotteSummerRead

Support Independent Bookstores by including this link to purchase 

or this one

or the publisher

Pick one, or all three and share.

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.


Book Reviews

Dear Readers . . . you matter!

Hello friends.

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. OutboundTrainFrosty

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.

Find your Local Bookseller at: Indie Bound

Direct from Publisher

From Walmart:

From Barnes and Noble

Book Reviews

Outbound Train Releases

OutboundTrainWho 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.





Direct from the Publisher


Book Reviews

Printing Bookmarks for Outbound Train: Part II, by Renea Winchester

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.

Y’all !

Individual Letters are selected from California Job Cases

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.

Behold: Outbound Train by Renea Winchester

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.

Jeff Blending the Ink

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.

Paper Cutting

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

The Press Distributing Ink

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.

PRINTFinalMarkWe 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 (@) Remember to remove the parenthesis (  ) when sending the email. It is placed here to prevent my email from being spammed.


Book Reviews

Keeping My Hands Busy while waiting for the Release of my Novel.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to sew bookmarks for the launch of my debut novel, Outbound Train, I only know it felt right to honor the women in my life, those who molded me and set before me an incredible work ethic to follow. Not so long ago women across this country worked in manufacturing plants. This blue collar work wasn’t shameful; having a job in a manufacturing plant was actually something to be proud of. Truth-be-told most of us don’t have to trace our roots very far to find a link to manufacturing.

After creating a Facebook Group for readers who volunteered to help spread the word about my novel, I wanted to offer a gift, a token of my appreciation because I know the success of Outbound Train depends on readers telling other readers, who in turn tell other readers about the book. A personal book recommendation is always best. I depend on you (yes YOU) telling someone about my book. Otherwise, I will have wasted my time.

Caveat: I am no seamstress. There’s no way I could support myself, or a family, sewing articles of clothing all day every day. My home economics teacher, Ms. Bradley, could testify to this fact. Renea is NO seamstress.

But bookmarks are easy . . . . right?

One simply cuts two same-shaped pieces of fabric, zips the pieces under the sewing machine foot, turns the fabric pretty-side out and viola’, a handmade bookmark. Or, even better, keep the sewing machine in the craft room and just glue fabric strips to pieces of cardboard for instant bookmarks.

Not so fast.

To truly honor the women of my novel I needed to sew as they would have. I needed to piece together cast-aside items. With the bookmarks, I used remnants and old blue jeans. For you see, “make-do” women waste nothing. As my friend Bren McClain once told me, “The women before us could make a whole lot of something out of nothing.”

Want to read a bit more about my debut novel? Visit Goodreads

Rifling through Mom’s sewing room, I found suitable fabric which I paired with donated blue jeans from friends. Then a reader mailed more fabric and I was in business. My thread supply came courtesy of my precious “other mother,” Katherine Nordling, whose daughter gifted me with enough thread to sew bookmarks right up until the rapture.

The Concept

The design concept came from Pinterest. That time-sucking website creative types use for inspiration and while my finished product was in no way similar to the concept, as I pieced together the remnants a feeling of contentment took hold.

The machine, however, refused to cooperate. It is my granny’s machine (yes, we called her Granny), an Appalachian title for a woman whose hands were never idle. The machine hates me. It senses I’m an impostor, clueless about appropriate tension setting and the correct thread to pair with fabric.

Many times, and I do mean, many-MANY times, the thread “gonged up” in the area between bobbin and needle.

Granny’s sewing machine hates me !

The machine seemed to sense the exact moment when I had established a rhythm and then BAM . . . with a groan, it seized up tight.

Friends, I wanted to give up. Wanted to upload an image to Vista Print. I wanted to take the easy road, the fast track and print a couple hundred bookmarks for $39.99 all with ZERO effort on my part.

But Bryson City women, especially those in Outbound Train, don’t quit when things get hard. No my friends, they level a steely gaze. They do not flinch. They press on. They overcome.

And so I shall keep sewing, keep praying the machine cooperates, and hope I have what it takes to finish strong, and that my fantastic readers (readers like you) will help spread the word about my debut novel. I am also busy working on PR. Reaching out to bloggers, freelance writers, book clubs, readers and influencers. Please send love, well-wishes, and referrals of anyone who can help spread the word about Outbound Train.

Bookmarks waiting for tags, and ribbon

This is what I have sewn so far. They are imperfect with crooked lines and frayed edges, but I think my people are proud.

Firefly Southern Fiction will release Outbound Train April 1, 2020, but you can PRE-ORDER directly from them now by clicking this link. If you order from them, and send me an email with a snapshot of the receipt I will mail a bookmark to you. (Don’t forget to include your mailing address). This offer is only while supplies last, as I mentioned, I’m no production seamstress.

Stay Tuned for Part Two of Making the Bookmark which I will post in February. Thank you for your support, and for reading.

Renea Winchester is an award-winning non-fiction author.  Outbound Train is her first novel.

Heritage Seeds and Crafts

Grow your own craft Beads: Indian Corn Beads, Rosary Beads, Job’s Tears, Coix lacryma- jobi

Did you know you can grow your own beads? Before I tell you how, I shall first begin this post by paying homage to those who have suffered and endured insurmountable loss.

Cherokee Legend of the Corn Bead

Many years ago during the 1830’s, the Real People, as the Cherokee call themselves, were rounded up as cattle. They were forced to leave their homeland and walk west to a new land. They cried tears of sorrow and grief and hopelessness. Where their tears hit the ground, a plant sprung up. The seeds look like tears and their color is the color of grief.

Beads ripening. Copyright, Renea Winchester, all rights reserved.
Today, the Real People wear the seeds in necklaces, medallions, and earrings in memory of the Trail of Tears.

Technically, the botanical name is Coix lacryma- jobi and before we progress further, please don’t use Google as your guide when it comes to Corn Beads (Job’s Tears). The plant I write about is not the same as grown in India, or Asia which used as grain. The variety grown as a cereal crop is called Coix lacryma ma-yuen. That particular variety is white and pale brown with a groove on one end.

We grow a different kind here in Appalachia. Corn Beads are rock-hard and the seeds endure multiple color changes, from white to yellow, then pale green, dark brown laced with a variety of colors and finally, when ready to use, the bead is gray. Indian Corn Beads are a vital part of Appalachian and Native American Heritage.

Indian Corn Beads growing with our corn meal corn (back) Copyright Renea Winchester, All rights reserved.

While the Cherokee, and other Native American tribes, refer to them as “corn beads,” others call the seeds “Rosary Beads,” or “Job’s Tears.” According to legend, the name “Job’s Tears” was given to the plant because of the many tears Job (yes, the one in the Bible) shed. Their tear-drop shape, and hard shiny exterior shell resemble human tears and serve as a reminder of suffering, sorrow, and redemption.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta used a rosary made of Job’s Tears for her personal prayers.  The fruit of Job’s Tears has been used in jewelry since before Christ. Growing as its maker intended, each seed grows with a perfect hole that runs through it making it easy to string, and feed wire through. Seeds of Job’s Tears are used for jewelry, basket making, and gourd decorating, just for starters. The beads are highly prized by designer jewelers.

According to Richard Bauman’s Differential Identify and the Social Base of Folklore, Rosaries made from Job’s Tears involve the union of the sacred and the profane and, “illustrate and reinforce kindship bonds.” It is also said that there is an emotional bond between the owner of the rosary and the maker of the rosary. While I have no experience with that bond, today I would like to speak about the grower’s bond.

I love many things about this plant. It is pollinated by those little precious honey bees,

Busy pollinator, Copyright Renea Winchester, All Rights Reserved
and is a member of the grass family. Jobi (the nickname I give it) grows as tall as corn, hence name, “corn bead”, with bunching stalks that become rougher as the season progresses. One must harvest with care, because the leaves slice through tender skin.  One should also be on the lookout for stinging packsaddle insects who love to hide beneath the leaves.

Despite planting them the appropriate length apart, the Jobi growing here at Butterfly Cove seems to need the touch of its sister in order to thrive. Foliage arches outward, reaching-if you will- toward a brother or sister, touching it when the wind blows, whispering secrets.

When a farmer stands amidst rows of Jobi and listens, truly listens, she can hear the plant whisper, “I will heal you if are willing.” Picking the seeds is a Holy experience for the senses. Preferring to harvest when they are the color of dark roast coffee, I relish the feel of slick seeds against my hands that have grown rough from summer field work. Ripe seeds are slick and detach easily from stem, whereas fruit that holds fast needs more time to mature. Many farmers harvest only gray seeds, but I prefer picking all season as the fruit matures, building a relationship with them as I visit daily. Typically, after a long day at work I can be found “in the tear patch,” depositing them into a glass jar, smiling as they ping against the glass.

I have three varieties that ripen to the same gray color, but range in heights of a foot to six feet tall. At times it seems that the more I pick the more the plant offers, even when a drought descends upon the land. Not much is known about the three varieties, which is why I and a colleague are trying to isolate each by plant size while documenting how it grows and produces. As we save seeds from year-to-year we should have true seed stock in three years for those who wish to grow a more compact variety of Job’s Tears but may not exactly have the garden space like I do.20191005_121459[1]

Even after a farmer believes she has picked all of the cascading grouping of seeds, there are more. Hiding in the crevices of the stalks, emerging from folds of green leaves, waiting at knee-length lower than the rest. More and more seeds, giggling like children saying, “find me if you can.”

Regardless of name, I call myself blessed to grow such a significant crop. Friends, it is an honor to have a heritage plant of historic, and spiritual, significance growing at Butterfly Cove.

If you are an artist looking for beads, mine are available in packs of 60 for $ 15.00

Indian Corn Beads, Rosary Beads, Job’s Tears, Coix lacryma- jobi in various phases of drying
Or, if you would like to try your hand growing your own, 12 seeds for $5.00 shipping included. Please note the planting seeds are white and are not suitable for craft purposes.

Feel free to leave a comment, or order through my website at

Used by Native Americans for necklaces, and artisans who create Rosaries, these seeds play an important role in Native American, Appalachian, and Spiritual heritage. Sustainably grown. Ethically harvested. Never sprayed.

Visit my website here to order beads for craft projects and jewelry making.

Renea Winchester is an award-winning author. Firefly Southern Fiction will release her debut novel, Outbound Train, in April 2020. All photos on this blog are subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without expressed written permission of Renea Winchester. 



Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Another Delightful Rose Glen Literary Event.

A deluge of rain and widespread flooding couldn’t deter me from attending the 10th annual Rose Glen Literary Festival this past Saturday. This makes my third event: One as a presenter with my second non-fiction book, the second as a reader supporting long-time friend Bren McClain, and yesterday, I was a volunteer.

During a time when book festivals are faltering, it is the community of readers that sets Rose Glen apart. Readers who are BUYING BOOKS. There is a sprinkling of magic at Rose Glen. This type of event happens only through generous corporate and private sponsorships. One need only look at the history of communities outside of the Great Smoky Mountains to understand the importance of art. Sevierville businesses and entrepreneurs “get it,” they embrace and support the heritage of hill-folk. But Rose Glen isn’t merely a celebration of stories, it is a community of artists who support each other.

Simply put, Rose Glen shines like a diamond; it is a much-coveted jewel in the literary community.

After lunch, I spoke with members of writing groups in Knoxville who bemoaned a lack of festivals in their area. They couldn’t understand why Rose Glen receives such an outpouring of community support, while critics shoot down literary festivals for Knoxville. I believe there is a chasm between the academia of larger universities and grass-roots movers and shakers who remain determined to make things work for the sake of literacy. Academia may chase the prestige of heavy hitters, not realizing that it is the reader who sustains the author, regardless of the author’s publisher. All while Rose Glen quietly grew larger and larger and this year had a heavy hitting NYT bestselling author who, in his words, was an “overnight success” (after 38 years of rejections).

Serious authors in Appalachia understand the importance of tearing down stereotypes and promoting literacy. We may add an extra “A” when pronouncing “Fancy Girls,” in a lighthearted manner, but we indeed know what a Fancy Girl is and the solemn history of the oppressed. Despite the backwoods stereotypes we endure, and our lighthearted way of making the best of a bad situation, it is the authors of Appalachia who persevere. We are people who embrace the written word and stories. We listen. We observe. We collect. We jot down stories. We tell others. For many who attended the festival preserving stories is a calling, a part of our DNA. Sevierville’s own, Dolly Parton, taught us the importance of literacy. Saying, “If you can’t read you are almost crippled.”

Her words empower us and we shall not remain oppressed by stereotypes.arg2

At Rose Glen I had the great privilege of introducing Stephen Lyn Bales who has attended every Rose Glen since the first festival in 2009. Mr. Bales was there to present “A Look Back at 10 Years of Rose Glen.”  He has penned three books. However, Lyn didn’t stand at the podium pontificating about his works. In fact, he didn’t mention his book not a single time. Instead, he held up someone else’s book time and time again telling the audience what he liked about each work.

Mr. Bales “gets it.” He understands how to build a community.arg

He understands that the most successful author promotes the work of his colleagues. He understands that “an author only needs a bit of hope.” I stood in the back of the room awestruck at his generosity. He wowed the room. He inspired me, enough to take a moment to tell you about him. His words matter to me and the world we live in. I’m proud he is part of the literary community, even prouder to call him friend.rg

During my first trip to Rose Glenn I took my daughter with me. Using her own money, she purchased a butterfly print he had available for display. Years later, it was my great privilege to introduce him, and sing Happy Birthday to this talented author, naturalist, and friend. arg1

Find his books here.

Renea Winchester is an author and volunteer at Rose Glen. Find her on Twitter @renewinchester or Instagram @ reneawinchesterauthor