And then I saw a freckled face girl with her nose pressed against the window glass. At that moment she was my Carole Anne, fiercely determined to leave the trailer park by any means necessary. Looking into the eyes of this young girl, I promised myself I would tell her story. I would tell people that she mattered.
Renea Winchester kept her promise. Her novel, Outbound Train, portrays the lives of three generations of Appalachian women. Carole Anne is the youngest, sixteen. Her mother is Barbara Parker, and her mother is Pearlene Parker. They live on the fringe of the Great Smokey Mountains in Bryson City, North Carolina, where the Norfolk Southern Railroad passes through three times a day. It’s the 5:30 a.m. that serves as a wake-up call to the townspeople, the engineer holding the chain for the warning whistle a tad longer to serve as an effective alarm clock.
Barbara responds sluggishly to the whistle as she gets up to prepare for work at the textile plant, aka “the blue jean plant.” It’s tiring and monotonous and barely puts food on the table and pays the bills. When an unexpected layoff happens, extreme poverty kicks in. Barbara, who suffers from lingering nightmares that stem from trauma during her teen years, now has to contend with this. She also worries about Carole Anne, fears that are eventually confirmed. Carole Ann is sneaking out at night to work in a bar, saving money to run away. Her loving mother and adoring, eccentric grandmother, are not enough to give her hope.
Outbound Train has a dual narrative by Barbara and Carole Anne, offering personal views of their blended lives. Readers can put themselves in each one’s shoes – a mentally struggling mother and a teen who fears life as a factory worker who never leaves the trailer park.
Like many writers, Renea Winchester writes what she already knows. Most of the women in her family worked in a manufacturing plant, though she didn’t. Her grandmother lived in a trailer, by choice, because it was what she could afford without help from others. And like Carole Anne, Renea couldn’t wait to leave Bryson City. However, it’s essential to know that Renea Winchester is against Appalachian stereotypes. She writes her characters to reflect the total person, regardless of what side of the track they live on.
Outbound Train has an abundance of praise. Many accomplished authors have endorsed Renea Winchester’s debut novel, including Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Before We Were Yours. Her lyrical thoughts grace the cover of Outbound Train.
And, The Charlotte Observer has listed Outbound Train in its Top 10 Summer Reads! The legendary Dannye Powell describes it as “…a story about mothers and daughters, heartache and healing, with pitch perfect dialogue and enough courage to keep you turning the pages.”
Outbound Train is Renea Winchester’s first published work of fiction; however, she began her writing career penning several non-fiction works, including Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. It was nominated for the prestigious SIBA award, earned Renea a nomination for Georgia Author of the Year, and received an endorsement from The Pulpwood Queens, the largest book club in the country. Renea has also been honored as winner of the Wilma Dykeman Award for Essay and the Appalachian Writer’s Award.
Renea, Thank you for this postcard that represents the actual school featured in Outbound Train! Though it was razed, it left a legacy of memories in the community, which is extended by your book. It’s nice that this photo postcard was reprinted, and I’m glad to have it in my collection. As for what I see when I peek inside… In this 1977 school – lots of hair, denim, and the brave ones who wore platform shoes! 🙂
Congratulations on getting your authentic Appalachian story out to readers in Outbound Train! Your brother was right when he pointed to the trailer park and said, “There’s your book.”