It was one week ago today that the Plains Art Museum provided a platform for local author Marcie Rendon to promote her new book, Murder on the Red River. Published by Cinco Puntos this past April, the book centers on a nineteen-year-old Native American protagonist named Cash, who uses her psychic visions to help investigate a murder at the Red Lake Reservation.
Though Rendon originally intended a write a light, entertaining murder mystery, more dimensions to the story emerged with each draft. The story shifted focus away from the murder mystery itself and more toward social commentary on human rights abuses and intercultural dynamics.
“I read murder mysteries like other people watch TV,” she said, “so I was trying to write the same kind of book that would entertain people without a whole lot to think about.” Her editor had other ideas: “When I sent her the manuscript, she said, ‘There’s a whole other understory that’s happening here.’”
In the final draft, Cash survived a car wreck that killed her mother and siblings, and was subsequently placed in white foster homes. However, in previous drafts, Cash’s backstory was slightly different, as it played into the prevalent issue of mass disappearances among Native women.
“When she was three her mother basically disappeared,” Rendon said, “and my editor was saying, ‘How could she just disappear? Moms don’t just disappear.’ And I said ‘That actually happened to thousands of Native women in northern Minnesota during this time period.’ It was after the boarding school era and the state of Minnesota had a policy… where thousands of Native kids were taken from their families and placed in white homes.”
Rendon, a member of the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation, has included a two-page page author’s note about the United States’ policies on Native American children, which has long resulted in broken families and cultural alienation. Cash, a streetwise truck driver, pool shark, and former farm laborer, is a product of this system.
After completing the novel, Rendon spent five years trying to find a publisher, despite being an accomplished poet, playwright, and children’s book author, with her work appearing in several themed collections. According to Rendon, this is not uncommon among writers of similar backgrounds.
“If you go to Amazon and you find the Top 100 Books About Native Americans, you’ll see Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon Silko… Everyone else in that Top 100 is non-Native, and they’re writing books about Native people. So for Native people to break into the market is really hard.”
Copies of Murder on the Red River are available for purchase at the Plains Art Museum. A limited number of copies are at the Fargo Public Library’s downtown location.
This article previously appeared in the High Plains Reader.
– Särah Nour