Cash Blackbear Series author Marcie Rendon on the art of writing

Marcie Rendon, author of the Cash Blackbear series. (Photo courtesy )

By Deborah Locke

White Earth Ojibwe Reservation enrollee Marcie Rendon has written three books in the Cash Blackbear series and recently published “Sinister Graves,” (Soho Crime, Oct. 2022). She is currently working on her fourth book. The award-winning writer agreed to an interview on how she found her way to the writing profession, and how the Cash Blackbear character developed.

DL: How easy was it to get a foothold in publishing?
MR: “Murder on the Red River” (Cinco Puntos Press, 2017) was published after five or six years of submitting it to publishers and getting rejections. I finished writing it, and then started to write “Girl Gone Missing.” (Soho Crime publishing, 2022) The submission and rejection process was a long haul. When I started submitting, the primary American Indian writers were Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. The attitude of publishers was, we have those native writers, and we don’t need any more! They had Tony Hillerman [a popular non-native “tribal mystery” writer] and romance novels. I wrote in a different genre that wasn’t hip at the time. Back then, and even today, so many main characters are half this or that and then white.
I was going to quit or write fluff or native romance books until Debbie Reese [Pueblo, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature] told me about Cinco Puntos Press. And they published it.

DL: How did the character Cash Blackbear come about?
MR: In the early 90s, I wrote a few crime novels. They were bad. Then I decided to write again about a young girl who went to Nashville. I started the book, and then Cash just appeared in my head. And I said, no, no, I have this other story to write but I could tell that with Cash, the character was working. She was already in the universe of my brain, a combination of every native woman who lived through that time in history. That time included the early years of AIM [American Indian Movement] and followed the boarding school era and foster care. After the first book came out, so many Native woman told me that I wrote their story. Cash was totally herself, with the strength and resilience that native women have personified in one package. That is Cash.

DL: Do you have long-term goals for character development? Where is Cash going with her life?
MR: I don’t know. Writing stories is pretty much unplanned. I get an idea, sit down and write and it unfolds. Some things I know about her because I already decided on them, like she will not get married. That would kill the story line. As for the rest of it, I don’t know. A professor at St. Kate’s uses “Murder on the Red River” in her class and has written about Cash’s PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). That was never on my radar screen as I wrote. Then I thought, oh yeah, with Cash’s foster care backstory, she never had space to develop an ego. For her, it was just day-to-day survival. Now as an adult on her own, Cash uses that to her advantage.

DL: What role does geography play in your plots?
MR: I was not consciously thinking of the Red River Valley as a character while writing, but after the fact and after hearing from others, I thought, “of course”. Every environment we live in is part of us. The earth is real, it impacts and changes us and makes us who we are. I could not write this story without the part of the world that she is in. My own personal experience of the natural world alive impacts me and others. We are not existing in a vacuum.

DL: The books are set in the 1970s. What challenges are there to setting a story in the past?
MR: I checked on the price of cigarettes and the cost of a beer. One question I had was, what was the cost of tires back then and what size would she need for her truck. A friend answered a few of the vehicle questions. Cash wears jeans and t-shirts and cowboy boots and shops at Penney’s. A bigger struggle than getting some 1970s facts accurate is just imagining what characters will say. So many non-conversations happen with native people and those non-conversations are important. How do I convey that?

DL: When did you decide to write professionally?
MR: I have always written, starting with little stories, poems. I wrote my way through college. I knew I could write, but no one ever said you can grow up and be a writer. Instead, I heard you can grow up and be a social worker or a teacher or doctor or lawyer and go back and help your people. Early in college I was pre-law. I ended up doing counseling and therapy. Yet I was always writing. In the early 90s I decided to make a living as a writer and sent stuff out.
When I was young, I read everything I could get my hands on. In the seventh grade I read all of Shakespeare and whatever else I could get through the bookmobile. Later my primary genre was crime novels. That is when I decided to write what I knew and was familiar with after reading [mystery/thriller writers] Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, John Grisham, John Sanford, Lee Childs, Michael Connelly, Stephen King.

DL: Do you wish you had starting writing earlier?
MR: I wish someone had told me in my 20s that I could be a native crime writer. I was a single parent and would not exchange anything for those years. I wanted my children, did the best I could in raising them and starting to write full time in the 90s when they were teens. Women put off not just their writing but their lifelong dreams because of family expectations. Some may resent that, but I don’t resent anything about my time with my children. The fact is, doing this now is great.

DL: When do ideas come to you?
MR: They are always dancing in my head. I’m a parent and grandparent and life happens. I can’t devote hours to sitting in front of the computer and writing. I’m now at a writing retreat away from the Cities and no one can call me here and ask if I can give them a ride or say Grandma, do you have a white t-shirt I can wear? I try to do these retreats at least once a year. They’re one way to get a big chunk of work done. I’m writing the fourth book in the Cash series, and I have finished a standalone contemporary crime novel and am waiting to hear from the editor on rewrites. I have a children’s book, “Stitches of Tradition,” coming out in 2024 from Heartdrum publishing [a subsidiary of HarperCollins].