Small Town, Nonprofit, Romance, Murder, Intrigue …
Who comes up with this stuff? Local author Renee Kumor, that’s who.
By Mary Jo Padgett
The fourth book in Renee’s popular “River Bend Series” of romance/mystery — An Act of Charity — was released in late April, just in time for brisk sales at the Blue Ridge BookFest at Blue Ridge Community College. The BookFest is an annual weekend celebration of authors and books … especially WNC-based authors. Renee’s newest book flew off her exhibitor table, as did copies of her three previous books. An Act of Charity carries the cliff-hanger storyline forward into new territory. It follows in sequence to the previous chronicles: Small Town Secrets, Taking a Chance, and ‘tis the Season.
Her River Bend Chronicles — which revolve around characters, plots, romances, nonprofit-organization intrigue, murder, and, frequently, mayhem – have attracted an enthusiastic following. Set in a small town named River Bend, the characters and storyline thread across each volume. Readers meet and get to know such personalities as Lynn Hoefler Powers, widowed executive director of River Bend Philanthropies; Jim Hoefler, Lynn’s father, a retired attorney and former DA and judge; Piper Llewellyn Hanby, principal of Rathborn Elementary; Dusty Reid, chief investigator of the James County/River Bend Joint Investigation Unit … and so many more.
Renee lives in Hendersonville, a small town here in Western North Carolina, and grew up in a rural, close-knit community in northeastern Ohio. She and her husband raised four children and have lived a life not unfamiliar to the characters in River Bend. Over the years, Renee has been a columnist for the local newspaper, was elected twice as a county commissioner, regularly serves on local nonprofit boards, and constantly observes how in a small American town each person plays many roles. She has created in her River Bend Chronicles the sort of people one would meet in a small town and has embellished their intricate lives and relationships with murder mysteries and occasional romances.
“One should write what one knows,” Renee said, “so my readers can trust I’ll never write about foreign policy or String Theory.”
But what does this author know about romance, you might ask. Renee laughs at the question. She and her husband have been married for more than 40 years; they raised four children and enjoy a handful of grandchildren. Renee has a handle on the kind of romance that lasts. But her characters? Well, their lives are a bit more complicated.
“I have at least eight more books cooking in my brain right now,” Renee said. “I incorporate the subtle connections and smoldering intrigue of small-town life into the evolution of the plot. I like my characters to have dimension. I want readers to know them. And I give my characters the freedom to tell me and my readers who they are.”
Using the nonprofit world as a backdrop for her murder mysteries is unusual. But she can explain that. “Over the years, much of my time has been spent in the nonprofit community, especially in board service,” she explained. And I have regularly written a column for the local newspaper devoted to nonprofit issues. I believe that nonprofit organizations are the force that keeps life civilized in a small town. The local domestic violence shelter or the arts council or the array of national nonprofits with local affiliates such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, or American Red Cross … all these and more have significant, positive influence across the American landscape. While writing my column on nonprofit issues, one thing led to another … I started creating characters to act out the issues I wanted to explain. Now the story side of me comes out in The River Bend Chronicles, a mix of nonprofit service and family relationships, a little lust and murder on the side.
“Writing is something I enjoy — and in recent years it has become a passion. Sometimes, even an out of body experience. There are days that I read what I have written as I work on a story and wonder who wrote that, who put those words in my computer? The only answer is — confusion. I have no idea — so I keep writing. It’s fun and it’s always an adventure.”
“This is storytelling at its finest,” observes AAeB publisher Shirrel Rhoades, who hand-picks the authors he has in his stable. “You come to think of these characters as if they’re people you actually know, people you care about, neighbors in a small town.”
In late August, Renee received an email from Rhoades announcing that her fifth book – Someone Cares — will be released in October. Someone Cares deviates slightly from her traditional storyline. In this installment of the River Bend Chronicles series, the story takes a look at the relationship between fathers and sons — with the usual and unusual happenings in a small town.
The jacket cover offers a teaser: “Being a parent is filled with challenges. Through generations men and women have stumbled into success and failure as parents. Dusty spent his first four months as a stepfather trying to find the right balance between discipline and friendship with his new stepson, Jason.”
For much of the story in Someone Cares Dusty searches for a good parent role model.
“Everyone has ideas on parenting,” Renee said. “In this book, the mystery is more than what happened to Jason when he went missing. The question that lingers at the end like an echo is — will Dusty learn from his mistakes?”
One can step into the River Bend Chronicles with the newest volumes and be able to pick up on the plot and characters rather easily. However, like watching Downton Abbey, the popular drama series on public television, each episode is enriched if you have watched previous episodes and have met the characters. The same with Renee’s River Bend Chronicles … don’t worry where you jump into the series, but jump in you must. Life without meeting the folks in River Bend will be less somehow.
The first volume, Small Town Secrets, and the two sequels were published last year through Absolutely Amazing eBooks, a virtual book publishing company specializing in affordable electronic books, both fiction and non-fiction, that are downloadable for most major eReader devices. The books are also available in paperback through print-on-demand. Headquartered in Key West, Florida, the company principals of Absolutely Amazing eBooks are writer and critic Shirrel Rhoades and entertainment attorney Albert L. Kelley.