During a recent television interview with Frank Murphy, he posed the question, “You write about the unseen people of Appalachia. Does that include you?”
The question brought home the realization that I am unseen. Having lived my life as the shortest person in school, and the absolute last to be selected for any sport activity, and, as an author published by an Independent Press, I can say with certainty I have been unseen most of my life.
Perhaps that’s why I work so hard.
I spent years building a platform as a non-fiction author and just as I transitioned to fiction, the pandemic hit. The timing wasn’t ideal, was it? With more than 2 million new books released last year, the market is saturated. Readers are no longer locked down, they are now traveling, eating out, visiting those they haven’t seen in years. People are living their lives!
But what about my debut novel, Outbound Train? In order to get the Parker women’s story into the hands of readers, I must procure a seat at an already crowded table filled with heavy hitting authors such as Wiley Cash and Ron Rash, just to name a few from my region.
Enter divine intervention and a single reader. As long as I have breath, I will never stop praising readers.
BJ discovered Outbound Train in the “Local Author” section of the Asheville Barnes and Noble. Being featured in a store a hundred miles from my home just doesn’t happen. I suspect B&N opted to include my book after reading the Book Feature of Outbound Train in The Laurel of Asheville , or someone heard the delightful interview with Landis Wade, or the book review by the incomparable Dannye Romine Powell of the Charlotte Observer. Perhaps a book fairy whispered my name in someone’s ear. Someone, somewhere, gave Outbound Train a chance, and because of that single moment and their kindness toward my story, I have a place at the table.
BJ read Outbound Train and fell in love with the Parker women. Set in the 70s when textile manufacturing was king throughout the south, Outbound Train tells of the Hardscrabble life of three women. Women who encourage each other. Women who, in their own way, make a difference in their community. BJ would later tell me she, “felt like she was in Bryson City,” and that she “could see the buildings and the characters clearly.”
BJ, that delightful difference-making-reader, nominated me to receive a creative writing award. Now BJ could have closed Outbound Train and picked up another book in her stack; but she didn’t. She nominated me for an award. My, how the world has changed. Today’s youth, hungry to be seen, want to be “social media influencers,” with very little face-to-face interaction. However, the strongest relationships occur when women come together as we did recently when I attended the “She Elevates the World” convention. I didn’t know a soul, not even BJ, who nominated Outbound Train.
And that’s what makes this award for creative writing special. I didn’t pay to enter a contest. I didn’t know anyone on the selection committee. I had never traveled to Winston Salem, the conference location. The Parker women (with no help from me) won this award outright and they are worthy. I merely penned their story and prayed for a publisher. The publisher came by way of Claire Fullerton who introduced me to Eva Marie Everson, acquisition agent.
Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? Women helping women.
These are active women who aren’t spending the day on social media. Women like Patricia who introduced herself at the conference by saying, “I’m boots on the ground.”
We need more women like Patricia, and BJ, and the ladies whose names I can’t remember from the convention because there were so many at the signing table I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t yet come down from the mountaintop experience and I struggle to explain how being with these women truly quenched my parched soul. I felt like I was coming home to a room full of sisters I’d been separated from for most of my life. I loved them all and could have spent days being around their light and positivity. It is these lovelies who will tell their local library to stock Outbound Train so those who haven’t the money to buy books can read about the Parker women. It’s these lovelies who tell book clubs about Barbara, Carole Anne, and the loveable Pearlene Parker, and then schedule zoom meetings with me so we can chat about books. Readers who follow me on Goodreads and leave reviews. These are the difference makers who help me get on podcasts, radio interviews, and public broadcasting segments. They give generously of their time to me, an invisible author. The more readers talk about the Parker women, the less invisible they are.
These women give, not because I ask, but because they know someone like Barbara Parker who is also scratching and clawing her way through life while dreaming of something better. Perhaps they once peered out the window like Carole Anne with a dream of having something more. Or maybe they mixed up a cake to sell for extra money like Pearlene Parker. Regardless of the reason, I am here solely because readers have answered the call on their heart and shouted from the mountaintop, Let me tell you about Outbound Train. As always, it is the readers who make sure I remain visible, and for them, I am eternally grateful.
And so, with humility, respect, and more than a few tears, I bow to the soul sisters, the difference makers, the women who refused to give up, the encouragers, the carriers, those who lift us up when we stumble. I see you my sister and I love you. I am not worthy of this honor you have given me and so I accept it in the name of all the women who paved the way for us. They are our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and precious friends. We see you and we honor you today, and always.
Help Support Literacy, and Come See me in Waynesville, NC: My next stop on the “Unseen Author Tour” will raise money for a cause near to my heart, literacy. Join me at 91 Lakeshore Dr. Lake Junaluska, May 19th for dinner and a discussion about books. Click the link below for more information. I would love to see you. An Evening with Author Renea Winchester | Facebook