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.
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
The penetrating gaze is the first element that grabs you. A challenge. A strong look of disdain mixed with dignity mixed with bemusement. A stand taken and projected for all the world to see, to understand, to answer. Draped round the man, a shoulder and arm free, you see the blanket; no—an American flag, crimson and white stripes painted with blinding accuracy and life, joining the field of stars on indigo, the bordering hem of grommets just kissing the floor. A reversed flag, signaling distress, in nautical terms.
After studying the perfect rendering, your eyes are drawn back to his. When you finally turn away, you suspect they will follow you.
Bob Coronato’s life-size portrait of Russell Means hangs today in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Currently closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, one may experience exhibits online. I visited the capital in August 2019 and was privileged to view the painting “on exhibit,” as works are regularly rotated. The image still occupies a wing dedicated to Contemporary Americans, 2000-Present, though Means passed away in 2012, the same year Coronato completed the portrait.
As Bob states in personal “liner” notes displayed in his Hulett, Wyoming, Gallery and Museum, “I have been researching and planning this painting for over 10 years. I first heard about Russell Means when I moved into the Black Hills and learned how much controversy there was around him in the Hills . . . I wanted to learn more for myself.” Hulett is a long way, geographically and professionally, from the National Portrait Gallery, where current exhibition signage suggests “an era of upheaval and seismic shifts, in both American culture and international politics.”
Originally from New Jersey, Bob confesses to being an outsider. “Even as an outsider, I run into people who share stories and have strong feelings about the entire mishandling of the Indian People.”
Russell Means wished to bring to light, and mitigate, the suffering of his Oglala Nation.
Is the flag’s position describing a singular now, or is it a warning? At the artist’s request, Means agreed to wear the flag as depicted, but he reminded Coronato, “Indians are not the idea of old Hollywood westerns or to be thought of as ‘in the past,’ but a people very much of today, and with a rich history.” The artist meant to recognize Means for his activism on his people’s behalf.
You might shudder at the man’s part with the siege at Wounded Knee in 1973; a crisis, where a town was held hostage, a federal marshal shot and paralyzed, and two Native American activists killed. In the ensuing three years, two FBI agents were killed. A paradox of self-determination and government intervention fueled the heated conflict, but this is simplistic, and you would likely uncover less complexity in a Saturn rocket. Means, as spokesman, announced AIM’s settlement with the U.S. Government. He left the American Indian Movement in 1988, but continued to work to improve conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in one of the poorest counties in the United States. Has life improved since? Was Means a catalyst? Or, misunderstood and conflicted himself?
The New York Times obituary described a colossal contradiction of a man, in reviewing his actions and their consequences.
A friend has described standing in the covered doorway of a Rapid City business with Russell Means and another man, all waiting for a downpour to cease. Her comical account: “He would turn in profile to the direction the traffic was moving. When the light turned, very dramatically, he would rotate in the new direction. It was hilarious!” Like a sunflower following the sun. She thought him vain, but he may have been merely playing. Subtle-like.
Coronato’s artistic intent, I believe, was not as apologist for the man, insofar as this could be possible, but he captured a bald truth in the contradictions, in paradoxes. From his subject’s wrist shines a finely-painted Rolex. Means insisted on wearing it and the black tee-shirt, as further evidence—or gesture—against Hollywood standards. But paintings are for interpreting, and you could imagine Means including the timepiece as a sly message of timeliness and perhaps worthiness.
Coronato once told me he suffered a kind of break while at work on the painting. He sunk his soul into it, and perhaps he did give something up, in trade, harkening back to the fear some indigenous peoples report, of their spirits being hi-jacked by a camera. The serious painting seriously demands your attention and consideration, not solely for its own sake, being a formidable effort, but for what it represents: the larger picture, a sign, a warning, the dire prediction. It asks, in its thousand-word capacity, what you will do. You will likely never forget his staring you down.
Having first encountered the painting when the artist initially hung it in his Wyoming Rogues Gallery, I felt a nudge, then, a charge—in the old sense of the word. If we are indeed responsible for knowledge attained (and today we are overrun by mere information, granted), do not gaze too long at this portrait. Move on to the next; in this particular National Portrait Gallery wing, it might be Toni Morrison, who redefined the Great American Novel, or Michelle Obama, who reinvigorated the role of First Lady. Choose the image into which you would lend, if not lose, your soul, but ask the subjects to release you afterward, if only to spread a few words—like a town-crier, or eyapaha.
Sheltering in place is less of a hardship for some than for others. For writers, it can mean a tacit permission to do what they do, a tragic circumstance notwithstanding. Covid-19 has brought the world to its knees, forgive the cliché; and has brought some lower. As of today, March 20, 2020, the first full day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, 259,684 cases have been reported worldwide, with 10,549 deaths. These numbers are fluid and, sadly, are expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks. In Wyoming, 19 cases are confirmed as of today.
My husband bought provisions to last a while, and I’ve had three months of medications mailed to me. A compromised immune system and heart condition precludes socializing, but I’m experiencing a renewed inclination to be in telephone or email touch with friends and family, those I would neglect while in the throes of formatting my novels for publication, or completing my WIP, or “work in progress.” A paradox, I suppose. I wouldn’t call it a silver lining.
We are being tested, and sorely so, I fear. When I watch a news segment, showing cavalier college kids gathering during Spring Break, flouting the danger that surrounds them, I want to shake my head and sigh. And then, I want to weep. When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish, goes the saying. With half the country minimizing the outbreak and the other half entering solitary confinement of a sort, and, in some states, all being restricted to quarters, there is little room for middle ground. We downplay the virus at our peril.
All this said, my husband and I attended a gathering just seven days ago, when we were still feeling flush, and Wyoming’s lone Covid-19 case was being managed. No get-togethers since then. Given the speed of spread, we will soon know if we, and/or anyone present, already had contracted the virus and were not yet presenting symptoms. Just now, I heard there’s a five-day incubation period. Not long at all. So, we take our temperatures daily, practice social distancing and cancel trips to see our children who live out-of-state.
I like “Work in Progress” as a title—a mantra during fraught times. Progress is positive, or it can be, but disease can “progress” too. I’ve always thought the phrase, “progressively worse,” an oxymoron. There must be a more correct phrase . . .
The notion of musical themes for Senga and her literary cohorts came to me several months ago, so I’ve created a playlist on Spotify for them. Under “ren”–see Senga’s playlist. It won’t be difficult. It’s the only playlist I’ve posted. If you don’t have the app, you could look them up on itunes and play the sample. The pieces on Spotify aren’t identified as to whom they represent (in my mind), so here’s a hint: In order of play (though I think they shuffle them–)~1. for Caroline: The Main Theme to The Cider House Rules (composers below) 2. Rufus: In the Middle of This Nowhere, on Oblivion 3. Senga: Nuvole Bianche 4. The Lover (no spoilers here): The Cello’s Song off A Childhood Remembered 5. Gabe: The Mission~Gabriel’s Oboe 6. Aunt Karen: The Emigration Tunes
When I hear these, I’m immediately pitched into the story. That magnificent film theme to John Irving’s Cider House Rules also lends itself to sunrise on a North Carolina tobacco barn. See what I did there? It’s Caroline’s tune, but Papa and Grannie’s too~Music is so very amenable . . .
I’ll be curious as to your own impressions and whether you can hear/feel the characters . . . perhaps it’s too personal a notion. Let me know. Now, the Hammock was chosen when I was working on the third book. (Thank you, Johno.) You may be familiar with the piece. John sent me a link and told me he was listening to it as he was piloting his jet over water at night. Its expansive dimension fits well where I wrote it into the story, along with several others, with thanks and apologies to the composers–whom I credit). I’m a musician; I can’t help it. Rhythm in writing is musical, and integral, I think. How we phrase and lengthen a narration can sound musical. Word choice, definitely. The affective, or emotional, in story doesn’t mind background music. If I had my druthers, I’d include a CD in the back of the novels. That’s a whole other exercise in organization. Besides, you may choose your own, or none. The gap sings between notes.
Thanks for allowing me go on about it, and I hope you’ll give a listen. Deepest bows to the composers, in order of play: Rachel Portman, Hammock, Ludovico Einaudi, Kostia and David Arkenstone, Ennio Morricone, and Loreena McKennitt. All Native American flute music reminds me of High Wolf. No surprise there. And yes, he plays the flute. The end of Book 3 evokes a piece, but I’m not ready to disclose it.
I’m working on the second novel’s formatting for release this summer. It will answer questions from the first you may have. Thank you for reading Senga and I hope you’re wintering well. All this said, I do want to recommend a memoir I just read. The Unwinding of the Miracle, by Julie Yip Williams. Absolutely stunning (thank you, Linda); the author may rearrange your thinking on life and death, the caveat. For now, to life!
A new decade. Looking back a hundred years ago, I shudder. Earth had just endured a world war and a flu epidemic, only to fall back into conflict less than two decades later. We stand on some brink today. Jackson Browne’s lyrics haunt me: “Oh people, look around you, the signs are everywhere, you’ve left it for somebody other than you, to be the one to care . . .” Look up the rest. I’ve turned to my singing, having put it aside in the throes of this book launch. Browne’s was the sheet music poised, and waiting, on my stand.
I’ve a friend who, in her seventh decade, has taken up singing lessons. I applaud her courage. And not for reasons one might suppose. To make a concerted effort to raise one’s voice in song, in these strange times, beats burying one’s head in the sand of despondency. Which would be easy. Candace Christofferson is an artist, just so, and she will succeed, given her voice is a willing instrument tuned to her will. It has a “whisky” timbre to it, and I envision her before a microphone and stand in a darkened club, blue light beaming down on her, giving it her all. She’s that kind of performer. An artistic one. While I, on the other hand am more timid, and lean into my guitar as shield. At readings, I suppose I could pretend my open book is my guitar and take comfort there. And courage.
Candace is responsible for my novel’s striking cover art. Generous to a fault, she allowed the use of the image. Here it is sans mark-up. And right-side up. Crows are a motif through my series, and attracted to bright, shiny objects. They are Watchers of Great Penetration; just what an artist must be. Poets, too.
Patricia Frolander, Poet Laureate Emeritus of Wyoming, penetrates her environs and its secrets in her newest collection, Between the West Pasture and Home. The titular poem, about faded blood on a saddlebag, whispers its evidence from a fading decade. Pat, my elder—like Candace—shows me doorways and possibilities.
We count time in decades as we age. Minute eras. Miniature eons. We have a decade, the scientists predict, to rearrange our response to climate needs, or catastrophe ensues. See the red ball to the left? Could be a blood moon. I see it now as Earth. And I shudder anew. The crow is a harbinger, yes, Senga Munro’s spirit animal along with Bear, Totem of Healers. Crow balances on Time. But lo! Surrounded by a consciousness apart.
I liked the image for its serendipitous interpretation of my novel’s themes. But like everything else, it speaks to more than personal notions.
Let us continue to “live liberty,” as philosopher of wholeness Patricia Sun entreats. May we make art, sing, write novels and poems and histories and memoirs. May we live as though Peace were a matter of living it. On this 4th day of a new decade, may Peace Prevail.
So said my erstwhile herbal teacher. Susun Weed’s prodigious talents include writing and publishing her Wise Women Series. Her new baby is named ABUNDANTLY WELL, and is now available. My own copies of her books are well-worn, scribbled in and often consulted. Pay her a visit. Be enchanted and beguiled. Make friends with The Seven Medicines.
Last Monday at the local library, I had the pleasure of doing a book talk, reading and signing for my new baby, THE RIVEN COUNTRY OF SENGA MUNRO. We contemplated rescheduling, as roads were icy and it was wicked cold, to borrow the Yankee phrase. My daughter called it a “soft opening,” apt–for the small number in attendance, hearty souls, they, but it afforded me a chance dress rehearsal. My friend Candace (whose art work graces the novel cover) coached me after at home on delivering a more dramatic reading, and for future readings we chose a different excerpt.
All good feedback.
Several copies made their way into the hands of intrigued listeners, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the turn-out and warm reception.
Amazon.com is holding a 4-day EBOOK PROMOTION for my novel, to begin Tuesday, December 17, at 8:00 a.m. Purchase price will be discounted to $2.99 and rise daily over the period. I hope you’ll take advantage of the sale. See below. Part of “push after birth” wisdom. Thanks, Susun.
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.
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:
adjective, literary; alternate past participle of to rive. 1. torn apart 2. broken into pieces, split asunder.
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
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
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.
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
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.