“Addictive and immersive, this series is a must-read…”

Heady words regarding one’s efforts, but I’ll take it. The Prairie Book Review has distilled the series well, always a difficult task for an author. “What are your books about?” often leaves me tongue-tied. So, here is a summary of the first three books.

Carrier combines love and intrigue with magical realism to build a stunning literary series set in rural Wyoming, Italy, Paris, and Ireland. In the debut installment, Senga is struggling to realize her true purpose in life as accidental death of her only daughter, nine-year-old Emily, weighs heavy on her mind. The second installment in the series sees Senga gradually coming to terms with her grief as Sebastian, a brilliant Danish artist, comes into her life. In the third installment, Senga finds herself following a magical realism thread that takes her to Ireland. She must weigh her own ability that makes her see what others cannot see. Carrier devotes considerable attention to developing her characters, especially Senga who is greatly affected by the tragic events of her past. The passages exploring Senga’s mental state, particularly after she loses her daughter to the tragic accident are haunting and raw. She balances the increasingly entangled lives of Senga and her friends, including the endearing Stricklands, Sebastian, Joe, Gabe, and Francesca with skill and precision. Carrier elegantly weaves the old legend into the main storyline, and High Wolf’s ancient story is as fascinating as Senga’s ongoing tale. Though it takes time to settle into Senga’s intricate world in the first installment, Carrier’s assured, lyrical prose expertly guides the reader throughout. The second and third installments read like a breeze, and new readers will have no trouble following Senga’s story. The plot unravels at a tantalizingly leisured pace, and Carrier’s immersive prose keep the pages turning. The characters’ complex relationships with one another are brilliantly portrayed, and the exquisitely detailed world and expert plotting are an added bonus. Along the way, Carrier explores deeper questions of love, life, regret, grief, racism, and the human cost of obsession and control. Intrigue, passion and madness, and hints of magical realism with tiny magical moments will keep readers spellbound from start to finish. With its Intricate worldbuilding, heartrending emotions, and expert characterization, this imaginatively told tale is sure to impress both the lovers of women’s fiction and literary fiction. Readers will eagerly await Carrier’s next.

~The Prairies Book Reviewhttps://theprairiesbookreview.com/2021/02/27/the-riven-country-series-by-renee-carrier/

Excerpt from THE SIMPLER, Book III in The Riven Country Series

The following passage opens the book. Greetings from a less cold Wyoming. The new solar array is producing energy, and today’s temperature may reach 54 degrees! I plan to go sop up some sun myself. Did you know, in order to absorb the most Vitamin D, your eyes mustn’t be covered with glasses? Closed eyelids are all right. Sunshine is a winter tonic. I hope it’s shining where you live.

Conservation of angular momentum describes the principle of force on spin. A loose interpretation: those who live near the massive igneous intrusion known as Devils Tower, in the northeast Wyoming Black Hills, are unwitting parties to this business of physics. To wit—given the rotation of the earth and the Tower’s hub-like form (consider a navel, a drain or a spinning ice skater)—a spiraling gravity is thereby exerted upon those in the environs. In other words; the nearer, the faster one spins. Metaphorically or not. A more facile account might read: the closer to the Tower, the crazier. Eggs, hard-boiled and raw, are often employed to demonstrate the principle. We’d be the raw egg white, sloshing around the yoke of the Tower. See? Crazy. Present company considered, naturally.

My name is Senga Munro. I’m a migrant, like early Southerners who turned westward in droves after the Civil War. The story spirals back on itself in every generation, dragging along with it hope (it is to be desired) of greater perspective and wisdom. Not quite working up the gumption to move on, some of us stuck fast, like tumbleweed snagged on barbed wire. Whipped up by the fierce Wyoming wind, I blew onto the high plains gyre. This is why I am here, north of Sara’s Spring in northeast Wyoming, making do in a small hunting cabin and earning a living as an assistant librarian and medicinal herbalist. I have savings and a few certificates of deposit as the result of a recent inheritance. My father died in Viet Nam while helping others during the evacuation. He was a hero. Mama died about two years later. She was sore tetched; I would learn the reason why.

Back on a mountain in western North Carolina, my Grannie and Papa Cowry fetched me up (as we also say). I learned herb craft from Grannie and went on healing calls with her. I helped Papa farm his tobacco and he taught me to hunt. He warned me against needing to know every blessèd last thing.

After they died, I came west with a musician, Rob McGhee. We had a baby who was born on the side of the highway near the Wyoming border. After, I wouldn’t leave, but Rob did; I asked him to. Our daughter died nine years later. Emily fell off the world. We’d climbed a cliff and she lost her balance. I blamed myself for years and years; the pack I had her wear pulled her backward. A man was holding her body when I reached the bottom of the cliff trail.

I’ve wondered what brought the man back into my life after nineteen years, after I’d gone so good and crazy with grief I thought I’d die from it (apart from the proximity of the Tower). A friend, Gabe Belizaire, who works for my neighbors, thinks nothing at all caused the man’s return, but I think I may have finally sorted it; Emily is the cause, my daughter herself, and the cause of my living.

Madness, the Tower and what lies beneath may well be the cause of my dying. . .

[Excerpt from THE SIMPLER, Copyright © 2020 Renée Carrier.]

Vigilance

The notion of choosing a word a year to study, exercise, and mull occurred to me especially this January, when upheaval and a sense of foreboding might have buried me in depression. Vigilance as refuge. Vigilance as resilience. Vigilance as agency. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” has been repeated by several luminaries, including Thomas Jefferson, but in researching the phrase, I find no first mention. Maybe it appeared in our consciousness full blown like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, from the head of her father, Zeus. As a natural law and obvious fact, granted, it is invoked by disparate groups in their collective marches toward respective ideas of freedom.

Enter my word for the year. The quality of vigilance begs for watchfulness, attention, awareness, and mindfulness. By choosing it, I hope to set my intention firmly enough that my internal “observer” will allow me to rest more fully and in peace when I need to. At least one burden has been removed, but another remains (the virus), and while it is easier to haul two buckets of water, one in each hand, internally, I seek a working balance.

Decomposing the spectrum of Vigilance begins at the root. I see the vi as having to do with sight, with vision. The ritual of vigil has long informed our mythical side. From days of yore, as means to concentrate the mind of a soldier before battle, it came to be conflated with “wake,” related to vigil, inasmuch as remaining with a loved one until burial. And to make sure the deceased did not awaken. The wake evolved to often include a rowdy send-off, either in place of, or before the more solemn funeral.

The first exercise in making a year-long study of this word is in writing this piece. Invoking a word and imbuing it with meaning casts a spell of intent. Naming a thing settles the mind. Accepting a charge (in the old sense of the word) settles emotion. Practicing vigilance might entail myriad actions, as well as non-action, i.e., a daily period of meditation, to learn to listen with the ear of the heart. (If I harp on this one, it is because I require the constant drumbeat of its message—no inference to you, dear reader.)

Having published three novels over the last thirteen months, I might be tempted to confuse due diligence with vigilance, but they are not the same thing. Assiduous effort has forestalled the possibility of an existential break, as it were, and I am grateful for the work, and the support of loved ones. Vigilance becomes a discipline when followed with love, an internal message of love from my head to my heart.

The Simpler of The Riven Country Series and the author at home.

THE SIMPLER Lives

THE SIMPLER is now available for purchase online, including Barnes and Noble (the paperback) and Amazon, (pb and e-book), and soon from me—when I receive my shipment toward the end of the month. If you would like an inscribed copy, contact me. Of course, your local book store can place an order, or ask your library to order one. In January, I’ll make copies available locally in Spearfish, Sundance, and Hulett. For now, I’m laying low during the pandemic, but hope to do readings by late summer.

Back cover matter

Writing and publishing three novels in six years (among other events) has tested perseverance and intestinal fortitude, but I found the formatting mechanics strangely calming—for the most part. There were the lost files, the mixed-up files, the initial disorganization and usual frustrations, but practice, practice, practice led me out of the thorny woods, that and my husband Jeff’s patience. Dear friend and artist, Candace Christofferson, worked up the mermaid image, beautifully, at my request. You see, my late father-in-law, John B., once carved from wood an intriguing piece, of a mermaid, and Candace’s model. Those familiar with the series will recognize the significance. Readers of the first novel may note the backbone reference. Meanwhile, I am waiting for the first editorial review to be posted—fingers crossed.

I hope you continue Senga’s journey with me, and if you are inclined, please leave a review. Below is the e-book cover version and information. I remain thankful beyond measure for this work at this time, and especially for you readers. May you and yours stay well and pass a warm Yuletide. Don’t forget to watch for Jupiter and Saturn’s alignment in the south around December 21, a true heavenly event. May Peace, Love, and Joy prevail~

  • Paperback: 301 pages—also available as an e-book 
  • ISBN-10: 1734043725
  • ISBN-13: 978-1734043723
  • Publisher: Braeburn Croft (December 2, 2020)
  • Dimensions: 6 x 0.76 x 9 inches
  • Language: English

Lending Grace to Chaos

Amid much angst, nail-biting and throwing off better dietary angels, I took a few weeks away from my writing work (save perfunctory tasks) and sorely feel the hiatus. A blog post may connect some dots of insight. I miss heading down to the little cabin, lighting the Little Buddy propane heater, to return when it’s cozy. I miss the sense of joy and peace I derive within the four pine walls. I miss the ineffable Flow, the Zone, the trance of being so caught up in telling my tale that all sense of time and concern evaporates. I miss my characters (along with proper flesh and blood varieties). I say (glibly) that the writing saves my life, borrowing the sentiment from fellow Wyomingite Craig Johnson of Longmire fame. I don’t wish to appear “precious” about it, but there you are.

Orchard after Harvest

Enough pep talk. Does it sound false? Will truth indeed set us free, and will it arrive soon enough? Especially for the child refugees in detention. Of all the damnable obscenities perpetrated by this sitting head of state, to me, this is the worst. . . An October 21, 2020 New York Times story cites the deported parents of 545 incarcerated children have not been located. An ominous thundercloud hangs overhead.

A maelstrom of discouragement, sadness, loneliness, disappointment and fury swirls in my head. A synesthesia. I draw no facile comparison, but how long before we’ll be able to enjoy our grandchildren and children once again? I complain too much, given those who have lost loved ones, jobs and homes to the virus, to fires, to misfortune. Those in nursing homes are especially vulnerable to both the virus, and the confusion surrounding it. A matter of degree, I suspect. Everyone dreads their critical breaking point, where “I just can’t take it anymore!” burgeons from the subconscious. A good cry can relieve our emotions, if not our circumstances.

Autumn Evening Sky

One night this week, about 2:30 in the morning, I permitted, even coaxed, a bubble of repressed emotion to rise in my gorge and I allowed the tears to flow. Dear Reader, it helped. Weep, cry, stamp your feet, pitch a fit–as Mom used to call it–and then weep some more. I’ll let you know if and when I am tempted to break dishes. (Not yet! not yet!)

A medieval “alternative fact” perches on my shoulder like an abused bat: the tempter-demon introduced in Catholic grade school, the “angel-on-my-right, devil-on-my-left” concept. No mention of metaphor. No psychological analogies. No elementary treatise on maladaptive behaviors or coping mechanisms. Plain old fear tactic 101. A version is employed by mothers the world over to frighten children away from a rushing riverside. La Llorona is a mother who has lost her children. She haunts shores, looking for those who might “do.” The clear light of day generally disperses any and all such notions, but the analogy begs a look.

Consider the end of the film, Saving Private Ryan (spoiler alert), when Tom Hank’s dying character tells the boy, “Earn this,” meaning, the deaths of those answering the call to help find the soldier. Earn it: Live a gracious life. Loosely based on a family’s loss of three brothers during WWII, a fourth brother, Fritz Niland, was plucked from combat by the Army’s “sole survivor” policy. Fictionalizing an incident, as novelists may, affords an opportunity to relate over-arching truths and poignancy.  Poetic Justice. It remains the bedrock attraction of literature, and a means to teach and to form conscience and consciousness. Great tales do this (whether we realize it or not). We stand at the Earn this! moment of the 21st century. The deaths of over 220,000 Americans, and over a million Earthlings worldwide, require our due diligence, and, our unmitigated attention. . .

Some of us self-medicate against the existential affronts bombarding our conscience and sensibilities. Others find satisfaction in working on creative pursuits. Some double-down on child-raising-and-educating efforts. Others live on social media networks. Some throw their heart and soul into improving the lives of those others, by serving and protecting in various capacities. Finally, many let go of their precious lives. “Enough, and Adios.” We owe a debt of gratitude far beyond a capacity to fill it, and this informs, and confirms, our humanity. Our reach must exceed our grasp, as they say.

With this post, I declare my independence from most social network sites, owing to the amount of time and energy related to their use and influence. Fundamentally a matter of physics, the personal cost is too dear. I understand it is precisely our fragile agency that is at stake. Each of us is a “product,” whose attention is to be mined and cultivated, according to producers and writers of The Social Dilemma documentary. (See Netflix.) My Gmail and WordPress accounts will have to suffice as tools to communicate online about my books. Must needs, as the Brits say. I was simply never that extroverted, but I am fine (if you wonder).  Carry on, we must, despite the obstacles. Do what brings you joy, I hear. Figure it out. Meanwhile. . . breathe deeply and, “Look for silver linings!” as friend Gundel counsels.

Ahh, silver linings. . . I looked up the idiom. I read John Milton likely coined the phrase in the 1600s with his quote, “Was I deceived or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?” Further meaning: bright side: Wikipedia calls this “a metaphor for optimism . . . a negative occurrence may have a positive aspect to it.” I imagine a sleek sable on her back, offering her long belly to be scratched, with Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” playing in the background.

Our daughter will occasionally speak of grace with a surprising candor and capacity for sense perception. She exudes a quality of the word, depending on one’s definition. Here I’m thinking of its roots in gratitude. Before sleep, a gracious and useful exercise would have us identify “three nice or encouraging things” that happened to us that day. Grace of gratitude naturally follows, and the exercise prompts inklings of further serendipities. Seek and ye shall find. Merci to French author Raphaelle Giordano for her novel about seeking happiness, Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Have Only One. Pithy title.

Our better angels beseech us.

Excerpt

Below, please find a short excerpt from Starwallow, Book II of my Riven Country Series. https://amazon.com/dp/1734043717 The second novel involves travel to Italy from Wyoming, and the journeys back home to oneself. Each character makes their own precious way. The formatting here is a WordPress default. It’ll do.

From Chapter 2, Seagulls and Jambalaya

Rufus pulled on his good Pendleton wool shirt, a past Christmas gift from one of his daughters, then his wool vest. Still barefoot, he stepped into the warm kitchen. It smelled like fried sausage.

Gabe was seated in his usual place.

Gabe Belizaire, thirty-nine and recently retired (he claimed) as a bull rider, was born and raised in Louisiana on a ranch. An MFA from Tulane, he’d given up a teaching position to concentrate on writing. He’d just submitted a collection of short stories. But he still wanted, what he called, a “day job,” so he continued to work for the Stricklands, who now considered him family.

In 2006, one of his rides was ignored by the arena clown and pick-up men in a case of abject discrimination. The bull mauled him in a horrifying spectacle. Rufus remembered the bright red blood drenching the yellow shirt of the Louisiana man, whose skin gleamed as black as a no-moon night.

And what color was that bull? A brindle, maybe, Rufus recollected.

The Stricklands had invited Gabe to recover at their ranch, offered in the guise of a job, and the man accepted their hospitality.

After he had been treated for his injuries at the rodeo, Caroline and Senga continued his care. Senga Munro, their nearest neighbor, provided salves, tinctures, compresses and an ear.

Gabe explained he’d traveled to the Black Hills in search of his sister, who’d disappeared after Katrina’s destruction in New Orleans. A truck driver contacted his parents to say he’d driven the girls—Allie and her friend—to western South Dakota, where they had waiting jobs at a guest ranch in the Wyoming Black Hills.

“Mornin’, patron,” said Gabe. “How’s the hip? Or should I just shut up?” he grinned after Rufus threw him a look.

“Mornin’, Gabe. And how’s the recently engaged man?” He smirked. Distractions were gifts from God. Maybe they are God. He lowered himself gingerly onto the chair, placing the cane on the back. “Caro?” he held up his socks.

“Doin’ well, boss, doin’ well,” and Gabe picked up his mug of coffee.

“Be there in a sec, hon,” Caroline said, as she moved the skillet off the heat and covered the eggs with the lid. She stepped over to Rufus, knelt down and pulled on each sock. Then she reached for the slippers he kept beside the stove. “There,” and she looked up at him.

Caroline was heavier than she liked to be, and rising to her feet took some effort.

“Thank you, wife,” he said, meaning it, then to Gabe, “You’ll like it, being married; they’re handy to have around. Like pliers, you know?” He winked at her.

______________________________________________________________________________

If you’re in the area, The Good Earth Health Food Store on Main, in Spearfish, South Dakota, is hosting a Reading/Signing for me, on Saturday, September 19, 2020, from 2:30-4:00. This accompanies the town’s Art/Wine/Food Truck Fall Celebration; also, fellow Wyomingite Jalan Crossland, and Lacey Nelson, play from 2:00 until 6:00 at the Spearfish Corn Maze. How fun is that?? You can bet I’ll be skedaddling to the corn after the book event. 

A Note of Thanks

With gratitude, I am thrilled to announce the award of a developmental grant from the Wyoming Arts Council, through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyoming Legislature. Such welcome support for the artistic community, especially in these dire times, cannot be overstated. It speaks to an understanding and recognition of humanity’s bedrock need to create something out of nothing, be it a novel, a song, a work of art, or any creative pursuit—which, in truth, encompasses any and all endeavors, if intention allows. The wondrous State of Wyoming has a soft spot for those of us who would tell our stories—and by extension, those of our storied landscapes—through our fancies and efforts. My thanks to all concerned.

This particular grant, like another I received, will go toward editing costs. It’s difficult, if nigh impossible, to edit oneself. This has been my experience, notwithstanding the numerous drafts, part of the creative process, and about which myriad books are written. I won’t go on about it.

As an indie author and my own publisher, I find the book business side both fascinating and tedious. The action of formatting a manuscript for paperback or e-book publication is both satisfying and nerve-wracking. I just completed preparing the third book of the Riven Country series, Earthbound, and am awaiting another scintillating cover image from friend Candace Christofferson. A late November release is The Plan. To have published three books in a year and a half may seem obsessive, but given the uncertain era we live in, I thought it best to “cast [my] bread upon the waters,” and see what returns. Which begs the question, “Why put oneself through it all?”

The simple answer: the work gives my life—for the present—meaning, purpose and perspective. Being separated from our children and grandchildren is a theme I’ve explored before, but today, with the virus constraints, the onus is on everyone to protect one another. As of this writing, on August 26, 2020, +180,000 persons have died in the United States, due to Covid-19. Despite the national crisis, Wyoming continues to attend to the Arts on behalf of her low population.

Ultimately, the Arts may serve to make sense of it all.

Signing copies for an upcoming author event at Devils Tower KOA over Labor Day Weekend, in the shadow of our nation’s first national monument. Drop by if you’re in the area. We’ll be outdoors, among the Hot Air Balloons. Can’t miss it!

Housekeeping

As this site also serves as my author web page, on occasion I’ll have housekeeping duties to perform, i.e., letting readers know when Amazon is holding an e-book promotion on the novels. STARWALLOW will be discounted to 99 cents on July 7, 2020, with increases until July 14, 2020, when it will return to full price, $9.99. By the way, the e-book reflects a version of the paperback cover, in case you’re wondering… Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1734043717

Stay well, all.

Editorial Review for STARWALLOW

The Prairies Book Review has published a 5-star review for the second book in The Riven Country Series. Find it also on Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Needless to say, I’m delighted.

“Carrier has outdone herself as she returns with this heartwarming second installment in The Riven Country Series that plunges readers back into the world of her extraordinary characters’ lives.

The pain of losing Emily has not left Senga’s heart, but life has been kind to her otherwise: with a gentle, extraordinary man at her side, a close group of friends, and the quiet country life Senga is content. After getting an unexpected inheritance, Senga decides to see her old grandmother in Italy, but the trip will bring more than she hoped for. Meanwhile, the Berry place outlaws are back in their back-country hideout. An accident that deserves compassion bring them face to face with Senga. But will she be able to offer it?

Carrier efficiently builds an array of worlds, sketching both her present-day characters’ endearing worlds and the old Intriguing world of High Wolf with nuance and delicacy. Carrier’s diverse cast is beautifully rendered, and the connection between her characters is both contemplative and heartening. Senga’s inner turmoil is balanced with the quiet optimism she holds for life in general. Though readers don’t get to spend much time with High Wolf, he with his perception, insight, and compassion leaves a lasting impression.

This sweeping tale is as much a life story as it is a meditation on love, grief, and inspiration. Readers who love the first installment will find this one to be an absolute knockout.

A quiet and hopeful literary tale that marvelously explores the meaning of life, friendship, and family.

A treat for lovers of literary fiction.”

~The Prairies Book Review

Joys and Sorrows

STARWALLOW, the second book in my Riven Country series, is available on Amazon.com on June 21 in paperback and as e-book. I picked a strange time to release my first two novels. “Not getting any younger,” scrolled in the back of my mind, like a looping film clip. So! Carry on, doesn’t matter, I hear. The next installment takes up where The Riven Country of Senga Munro left off, with the folks in the Northern Wyoming Black Hills going about their lives with grit, forbearance, and, some grace. Travel is a theme. My short tag line reads: “. . . explores the distance between home and the travel necessary to come home to oneself.”

My joy—and satisfaction—at completing this writing project is tempered by a deep sorrow. A highly anticipated visit by our distant grandchildren has been cancelled, due to the virus. They live in the mid-west, and all possible routes lead through areas of virus spread, i.e., eastern South Dakota, or Nebraska or Colorado; and the stats are rising in Missouri itself. I abhor letting people down, especially our son and grandchildren, so it’s doubly difficult. The assertion that we would like to, someday, be able to attend the kids’ graduations, weddings, etc., doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid, and we’re left with a hollow feeling of perhaps being too cautious. Reason cries no! Still. . .

Between Joy and Sorrow there lies a field, to paraphrase Rumi. I’ll meet you there. . .

Navigating the times, a raging river, are we headed for a Niagara’s Falls? Both/and inclusion insist we’re aboard a hardy Lifeboat and shall weather the rapids, to finally make our tenuous way toward the far shore. I must believe this. Our country, and the world, have faced adversity before, as well as revolutions of mind and heart. This particular Lifeboat is large enough for EVERYONE. May all beings be safe. May all beings be loved. May all beings be free.

It may not be coincidence that my novels feature a Louisiana man who chooses to live in Wyoming, where his skin color is rare. Gabe Belizaire, of blue-Black heritage, quotes W.C. Fields to a belligerent hunter: “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” When I began writing this story six years ago, notions of white supremacy and its hurtful message slithered in like the proverbial snake in the garden. For a reason, I suppose.

Beyond the idea of good and the idea of evil there lies a field. I will meet you there. ~Rumi

May you stay safe, afloat and, keep breathing.