- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Marcie Rendon’s Murder On The Red River gives us a unique protagonist in Cash, a pool-hustling, truck-driving, American Indian girl, living on the North Dakota side of the Red River. Getting visions has her calling on her guardian, Sheriff Wheaton, to help investigate the murder of an Indian activist. Marcie delivers a vivid rendering of both place and character, something we discussed in this interview with her.
MysteryPeople Scott: Cash is a great heroine because she is as flawed as she is cool. How did you come up with her?
Marcie Rendon: Cash appeared as I was writing a story about a young woman who wrote songs in her head on her way to becoming a country western singer. That was the intended story. Cash had her own ideas about where her story was going. Cash can be just about any Native woman I know – incredible humanity, strength and resiliency in the face of much oppression.
MPS: She does a lot of things a girl her age isn’t known for doing, yet I never forgot she was nineteen. Was there a way as an author that you reminded us of her age without being obvious?
MR: I think it’s fairly accurate to say that most Native people never get the same ‘childhoods’ the majority of folks in the US take for granted. By the circumstances of racism and oppression we are often born into ‘adulthood’. And in that life there is also always a vulnerability that is visible if one takes the time to really be aware. So, I tried to have her vulnerability available to the reader throughout the story. There are also a number of points where it is mentioned that she is doing things other folks her age aren’t and her fake ID gets checked a few times.
MPS: Cash’s visions come off being grounded and believable. How did you avoid them from being too supernatural?
MR: Singer/songwriter Buffy St. Marie is quoted as saying: You think I have visions because I am an Indian. I have visions because there are visions to be seen.
As writers we are told to ‘write what we know’ and ‘to show not tell’. I think many people think these kinds of seeing and knowing are supernatural whereas many Native folks know this way of seeing is real and everyday so I wrote it that way.
MPS: There is a lot of traveling back and forth across the Red River in the book. Does it serve as a line of division?
MR: If so, it was not intentional. It is just a fact of the way the two cities of Fargo-Moorhead sit on either side of the Red River. The story is one about division of cultures and expectations of women for sure. And those divisions are very real; I think more so in rural areas than more urban settings – or maybe because of the sparsity of population they are just more visible in the rural setting.
MPS: Did using the mystery genre allow you to explore things with these characters and society you couldn’t into in others?
MR: Writing this story as a mystery was a way to address potentially heavy social issues in an interesting way. People hopefully can read the story and one, as native people see themselves, and two, as non-natives get a bigger historical picture without being consumed with guilt. It was also a way to demonstrate the resilience of native people. Native people have tremendous ability to bounce back from adversity and to see humor in not-so-funny life situations.
MPS: What did you want to get across about the Red River area?
MR: The Red River Valley sustains the people, people far beyond the Valley. And although the Red River is a relatively small river, it has tremendous impact on the land, with its’ seasonal floods and geological history that left behind the rich topsoil that.
You can find copies of Murder on the Red River on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.