by Marcie Rendon
My protagonist in the Cash Blackbear crime series is a nineteen-year-old Ojibwe woman who has aged out of foster care in the early 1970s. She drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and works as a farm laborer in the Red River Valley of the North. Short and lithe with waist length dark hair, she shoots a mean game of pool at barroom billiard tables. And she helps the local county sheriff solve crimes.
Someone once told me that men are rarely asked if they model their main character after themselves, but it is a question women authors are often asked. The first time I was on an author’s panel and asked the question, I deflected it by turning to the male author sitting next to me and asking, “Is your protagonist modeled after you?”
Another question often asked of me as a Native American author is, “Do Native Americans all have dreams and intuition in the same way your main character, Cash, does?” I respond by telling the true story of Frances Densmore, ethnomusicologist, who, after visiting Ojibwe tribes in the early 1900s and recording our music in the belief that we would soon all be dead, said, and I paraphrase, ‘The Ojibwe people are all schizophrenic because they see and hear things the rest of us don’t.’ In my opinion, Cree singer, Buffy St. Marie, has a much more accurate perception. She says, “You think I have visions because I am Indian, I have visions because there are visions to be seen.”
My character Cash keeps finding herself in physical confrontations way beyond her capabilities. So many times, in fact, that she finally sets out to learn judo to compensate for her small size. My personal knowledge of judo is a high-pitched scream if need be.
Years ago, I had decided to write crime fiction, not because I ‘know’ crime or am a criminal, but because that is the genre I love to read. I wrote three pathetic crime novels that will sit forever in a box in my garage and hopefully the mice have eaten most of the words. I determined that I didn’t know how to write this genre and sat down to write a chick lit story about a woman who goes to Nashville to break into the music industry. Cash, literally and figuratively, appeared over my right shoulder, shook her head, saying ‘no, no.’
She gave me another story to write; her story and as long as I write her story, it seems to work. I wish I were as smart as Cash, as tough mentally, emotionally, and as bigger-than-life as she is. Instead, about all I have in common with Cash is a somewhat good ability to shoot pool.
So, when people ask, “Is this story autobiographical? Is Cash’s story your story?”, I have to shake my head no, and say, “I wish.”
As writers, as authors, I think we need to learn to follow the muse, listen to the voices and stories in the shadows of the room. Bring them to the light. Put them on the page. They are not us, but when we let them, they are the better and best parts of our overactive imaginations.
There are three books in the Cash Blackbear series so far. Murder on the Red River and Girl Gone Missing are currently available (Soho Press). The third in the series, Sinister Graves will be available in October 2022.
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