Interview

What inspired you to write The Riven Country of Senga Munro?

The short answer is Life, but other authors inspire me; in particular, Gretel Ehrlich, Chris Cleave, Diana Gabaldon and Louise Penny, and my father’s mythic life as an early aviator—who happened to write very well. But ideas for the main character and the Cheyenne scout came to me about thirty years ago—an impossibly long gestation—and I scribbled down some notes and scenes, actually, one similar to Senga’s, where she “sees” the hunter on the hillside. I once saw (imagined, conjured) a beautiful man squatting down behind our house, checking out our family’s goings-on, bow in hand. I don’t know if he was Cheyenne however. . .

After passing the entire year of 2014 mostly reading (my husband thought I’d checked out on him), I recognized and honored a more-than-insistent nudge to finally “be about it,” how a friend once chided another would-be writer to just get on with it. I began to work mornings in a tiny cabin below our home, treating it as my “work.”  For Christmas, my husband presented me a small propane heater so I wouldn’t be interrupted by a hungry woodstove. I’ve been about it for five-and-a-half years now, and have completed three novels in the series, and have begun a non-fiction project.

Can you tell me about the book?

Distilling it is difficult, but it’s about love, in the end. And loss. And restoration. Now those are themes, and not what most readers look for at first, so here are the story’s main points: Senga Munro—named Agnes at birth—is raised by grandparents and her unstable mother on a mountain in North Carolina. Tragedies and triumphs swing in a wide arc. At seventeen and pregnant, Senga goes on the road with her musician boyfriend, to wind up in rural Wyoming. Nine years later, she blames herself when her young daughter dies—the defining tragedy of her life.

In the aftermath, she learns what it means to be “other” in the rural West. Senga can see what others can’t, in the novel’s thread of magical realism. An arrow shot through time by a 19th century Cheyenne scout jolts her awake from her sleepwalk of a life, but then she is provoked by a modern-day outlaw. In waking from her grief, she re-inhabits the world, warts and all, as they say. Does she risk quiet routine and come to terms with something approaching purpose? That answers itself, of course.

What did you learn when writing the book?

Well, that’s The Thing, isn’t it? I believe writing engenders the next day’s writing and the next, this momentum of imagination; this stimulus of “knock-knock, who’s there?” Everyone. I have learned it’s magical—the process. And besides the required research in several areas, I learned I do have imagination. (Else I’m simply tapping into the collective unconscious. But that’s another essay.) I have learned that every event, confrontation, relationship, kindness and desire has purpose in a storyteller’s life.

What surprised you the most?

The joy and satisfaction in the doing of it.

What does the title mean?

Senga’s lover coins the title after seeing her backbone rising like a miniature mountain range. Riven is an unusual word, but not entirely archaic. Her lover knows her brokenness at losing her child. Senga is a country to him, and he names it “riven.”

As a first novel, is it autobiographical?

I suspect all novels are, and this one has elements drawn from my own life, but I won’t say which. The characters are delicious composites. My tired old joke is, we have too many chairs in our home . . . they must have been waiting for the denizens of Senga’s country.

Who is your favorite author, and why?

Well, that’s an unfair question, but I’ll confess an influence. Diana Gabaldon, who created the Outlander Series. She is generous—if fierce—in her encouragement, and she has expressed her process in such a way as to make the steps seem less daunting—though they must be. Her treatise on writing sex scenes is invaluable.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön. I just finished Louise Penny’s latest Gamache mystery, A Better Man, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy, a gift from my son. What world builders they are!

Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I loved Rosamunde Pilcher, for her unforgettable characters and tone. But, as I enjoy a touch of magical realism, I’d add Barbara Kingsolver; also, for her social justice consciousness.

What was the first book to make you cry?

I believe it was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. I was about fourteen. And impressionable. Still am. I have sobbed while working on my novels several times. With all the re-reading, you’d think you’d become inured, but I haven’t, which is oddly gratifying. Some nerves must remain vulnerable.

Favorite quote? (doesn’t matter the source)

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Senga Lives!

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THE RIVEN COUNTRY OF SENGA MUNRO, my debut novel, is available on Amazon, and soon by IngramSpark distribution (if all goes well). The e-book is also available on Amazon. I am by turns thrilled, exhausted, grateful and incredibly sorrowful, as the timing corresponds with a sister’s cancer and multiple strokes. We are all reeling. I have this sister to thank for my finally being about the storytelling these past 5 ½ years, after taking a year “off” to immerse myself in reading–including my sister’s favorite series, Outlander.

Friend and artist Candace Christofferson graciously provided the perfect cover image.

The novel’s back cover reads:

Riven: adjective, literary; alternate past participle of to rive. 1. torn apart 2. broken into pieces, split asunder.

“My daughter would have been 29 years old this year,” begins this inter-generational story. Senga Munro still blames herself two decades after her daughter’s death. A literary novel, THE RIVEN COUNTRY OF SENGA MUNRO explores the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy and what it means to be “other” in rural Wyoming: Senga sees what others can’t, via the novel’s thread of magical realism.

An arrow shot through time by a 19th century Indian scout jolts her awake at last. Will Senga risk the relative safety of routine and finally come to terms with her purpose and life, even as she provokes the ire of a modern-day outlaw? Senga Munro, the not-so-simple herbal simpler is earning a PhD in life’s mysteries.

We meet Senga’s friends: Gabe Belizaire, a bull rider from Louisiana with an M.F.A in Creative Writing, who chooses to live in a state where his skin color is rare; Rufus and Caroline Strickland, a sympathetic, if irascible, elderly ranching couple; Francesca Albinoni, Gabe’s Italian muse; Joe Rafaela, the hardy Franciscan; and the old Berry place folks—outlaws and proverbial snakes in the garden, of the poisonous variety.

Readers learn that resilience and grit triumph as the most useful antidotes in the bag as they journey through THE RIVEN COUNTRY OF SENGA MUNRO, Book One in THE RIVEN COUNTRY SERIES.

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The next few months will be necessarily fraught with travel, family visits, phone calls, deep breathing and the need for hugs. Regarding the book, I’ll be letting it flow, as the saying goes. Find updates via this blog, Goodreads, the Amazon Author page and Twitter@reneecarrier12. Many opportunities for rereading this first novel and the two that follow (you always find something to correct) have served to illustrate how a long story develops. As in life, I suspect. The second novel, STARWALLOW, and third (working title: EARTHBOUND) are linked by Senga, her friends and foes. Also, by differing geographies. They will be made available in 2020.

If you acquire a copy and find something of merit, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or Twitter. As a friend in Scotland once told me, “Senga lives!” Thank you, Charles. And thank you to Jeff, our children and grandchildren; friends and wonderful editor Sarah Pridgeon; the Wyoming Arts Council, for the Frank Nelson Doubleday Writing Award in 2018—so encouraging, and, for their grant assistance. The novels are set mostly in Wyoming, my home for lo, these last four decades. Yes, a love letter to place and belonging.