Congratulations to Renea Winchester! Today is release-day of her wonderful novel, Outbound Train, a novel with such visceral, Southern nuance and depth; the characters seem to embody the rural South.
In 1976, memories from a night near the railroad tracks, sixteen years earlier, haunt Barbara Parker. She wrestles with past demons every night, then wakes to the train’s five-thirty whistle. Exhausted and dreading the day, she keeps her hands busy working in Bryson City’s textile plant, known as the “blue jean plant,” all the while worrying about her teenage daughter, Carole Anne. The whistle of the train, the hum of those machines, and the struggle to survive drives Barbara. When an unexpected layoff creates a financial emergency, the desperate pressure of poverty is overwhelming.
Unbeknownst to Barbara, Carole Anne sneaks out at night to walk the tracks so she can work at Hubert’s Bar. She’s hoarding money with plans to drive her mother’s rusty, unused Oldsmobile out of Bryson City, and never return. She only needs one opportunity … if she can just find it.
When Carole Anne goes missing, Barbara finds herself at a crossroad—she must put aside old memories and past hurts to rely on a classmate for help finding her daughter. But this is the same man she blames for the incident years ago. Is she strong enough—or desperate enough—to do anything to keep her daughter safe?
In Outbound Train, the Parker women struggle to make frayed ends meet in a town where they never quite do … at least, not without expert weaving and a bit of brute force.
I read the ARC of Outbound Train and recommend this gorgeously written, starkly real Southern set story that will play on your heartstrings all the way through. Author Renea Winchester writes with a clear-sighted, compassionate eye about women in hard times. They are the blue-collar, Parker women, one haunted by her past; the other, her daughter, who plans to escape the poverty of Bryson City, North Carolina at any cost. With twists and turns and secrets that come full-circle, Outbound Train is an engaging story, Southern to its core in setting and character, and captivating to its last page.
Here is my favorite photograph of Renea with her goat!
I asked Renea Winchester the following questions about Outbound Train.
Q: Are any characters based on or named after friends? If so, have you told them?
Full disclosure, the character Doretta is a combination of Loretta Hannon, the funniest woman in the South, and my sister, Doretta McCammon. Both of these ladies are unpredictable, fearless, and funny as all get out. There’s a reason we live so far apart because together we have entirely too much fun. Secretly Carole Anne wants to be like Doretta. She covets Doretta’s life, her house, and the freedom Doretta has. However, Doretta wishes she were more like Carole Anne. I haven’t told my friends that I based my character on them, until now.
Q: Did you write outside? Do you have a soundtrack?
What an excellent question. I have carried this novel with me, in written form, for years. Jotting down notes, scenes, and sometimes a single saying in notebooks, receipts and napkins whenever a character whispers in my ear. I do not have a soundtrack. Music is a big part of my life, but I find it distracting when writing.
Q: How did you capture the ideas as they came to you?
I write everything by hand because, for me, the first draft comes easier through the tip of a pen. While writing Outbound Train, I voiced to my dear friend, Terry Kay, the troubles I had with a particularly elusive character. The scene simply would not flow no matter how hard I tried to manipulate the story. Terry, in his wisdom, said, “Now dear, you cannot chase characters down the hall. You cannot force them to do your bidding. You are not in control. They are in control. You have two jobs. Observe your characters and write what you observe. Pondering his words, I realized he was correct. The next day I put his advice into action and finished the scene.
Q. You wrote about secrets. Can you tell us a little about the cause and effects of secrets in the story?
Both Barbara and Carole Anne have secrets. Barbara won’t reveal the name of Carole Anne’s father, so young Carole Anne – who is hungry for a positive male role model-picks her own; except the person she picks is a man her mother blames for a traumatic event from her childhood. Carole Anne has had her fill of poverty. She wishes to escape, by any means necessary, even when it means taking a job that breaks the law. A job that ultimately leads to her kidnapping.
I think we all have secrets. Whether we are hiding a past trauma, or hunger for something more in life, I believe the secrets we carry motivates us to change.
Q: Was the North Carolina setting important to the story?
During the first draft, I set Outbound Train in a fictionalized town, but it felt disingenuous. I knew readers couldn’t connect with the characters without experiencing what we call a “sense of place.” Honestly, the story lacked heart. I simply could not convey the emotion necessary to touch readers unless I set the story in my hometown. I needed readers to walk the rails with Carole Anne, and hear the hum of sewing machines inside the textile mill. I needed to show them this part of Bryson City because the setting made me who I am today. In order to honor the women who raised me, the setting needed to be real. The same is happening with The Mountains Remember, my work in progress. The story occurs on Indian Creek, in the community where my people once lived before being displaced to form the National Park.
Here’s what others say about Outbound Train:
“Renea Winchester’s storytelling is as real and authentically Southern as the clear water music of an Appalachian creek and the song of Cicadas on a front porch summer evening.” ~ Lisa Wingate,
#1 New York Times Bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and Before and After.
“I fell in love with the smart, strong, funny characters in this community of make-do women, and I predict you will, too.” ~ Pamela Duncan, Author of Plant Life
“With pitch-perfect dialogue and believable characters, Winchester has crafted a story that will make readers stand up and cheer.” ~Michael Morris, Man in the Blue Moon, A Place Called Wiregrass
Renea was born and raised in Bryson City, North Carolina. She began her writing career in Georgia where she penned several non-fiction works including Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches which was nominated for the prestigious SIBA award, earned Renea a nomination for Georgia Author of the Year, and received the endorsement from The Pulpwood Queens, the largest book club in the country. After winning the Wilma Dykeman Award for Essay and the Appalachian Writer’s Award, Renea focused on transitioning to fiction. Renea has served on the Atlanta Writers Board, Georgia Writers Association, and judges multiple literary awards. In April 2020, Firefly Southern Fiction released Outbound Train. Set in her hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina, in 1976, Outbound Train is a triumphant story of perseverance and hope despite the harshness of poverty. Renea is passionate about literacy, Appalachian Heritage, preserving rare seeds, cultivating endangered plants and meeting new friends. Outbound Train is her debut Novel. Contact Renea through her Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Renea-Winchester-Author-162590877104288/
~Outbound Train releases today. It’s available at your favorite book store as well as book sellers online.
You can find Renea Winchester of WordPress ~ https://reneawinchester.wordpress.com/