River's Song, Inn at Shining Waters Series #1River's Song, Inn at Shining Waters Series #1
Melody Carlson
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Following her mother's funeral, and on the verge of her own midlife crisis, widow Anna Larson returns to the home of her youth to sort out her parents' belongings, as well as her own turbulent life. Her relationship with her daughter is in shambles, and the tension between Anna and her vicious mother-in-law escalates daily.

Anna's unique family home sits on a picturesque coastal tributary and is filled with years of memories. For the first time since childhood, Anna embraces her native heritage and river roots. But Anna soon learns that more than just her past resides along the banks of the Siuslaw River. By transforming her old family home into The Inn at Shining Waters, Anna hopes to create a place of healing-a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings.

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Melody CarlsonBest-selling author Melody Carlson has written more than two hundred books for children, teens, and adults. Melody has two grown sons and lives in central Oregon with her husband, where they enjoy skiing, hiking, gardening, camping, biking, and hanging out with their chocolate lab..

Favorite Verse: John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."


 Our Interview with Melody Carlson


River's Song is different from most of your other work, what inspired the concept for River's Song?

The location was the initial inspiration. The Siuslaw River is a beautiful coastal estuary that I felt had ‘old stories’ to tell. We have a beach cabin nearby and over the years I’ve learned bits and pieces of this area’s history. As time passed I began weaving this multigenerational story in my mind, and even wrote some of it down with the hopes of one day publishing it. Because I’d heard that the Siuslaw tribe was a matriarchal society, I imagined generations of Siuslaw descent women passing along both the strengths and (unfortunately) some of the weaknesses of their ancestors.

You chose a beautiful setting for your story, is it based on an actual place in Oregon?
Yes, the Siuslaw is very real. But because the story is fictional I’ve had to ‘blur’ some of the actual details of the river to make it fit into my storyline. For instance much of the river was used (during the sixties and seventies) as a holding area for floating timber. This took quite a toll on the river, but after the lumber industry nearly disappeared in Oregon, the river began to heal itself. Although I mention this in the book, I ‘shorten’ this period in order to make the success of the inn more viable. And I have to say that even during the river’s ‘ugly’ years, it was still beautiful. Just slightly wounded.

You integrated the Siuslaw Indian tribe deeply into the story of River's Song;  does the Siuslaw tribe exist now and/or did it ever exist?
The Siuslaw tribe was real. Coastal Native Americans (peaceful fisherman, gatherers, hunters, craftsmen) lived carefully on the land for hundreds of years. When the white man came, the Siuslaw were helpful and friendly (housing and feeding them) and for awhile the relationship was good. And the government made a relatively generous treaty with the Siuslaw (as well as some other coastal tribes). But, as was often the case, the government changed its mind (when it realized the monetary value of the river and handily located coastal town) and the Siuslaw tribe (along with other tribes) was sent north to an internment camp for “re-education.” The Indians weren’t allowed to fish or gather their food and, exposed to various illnesses, most of them died. A few were eventually returned to their land with the promise that they could have forty acres of river land (if they knew how to file, which few did). Unfortunately those who did file usually wound up selling their land to white men. There are very few descendants of Siuslaw remaining today, but there’s been a resurging interest in their cultural heritage.


If so, was the waterproof baskets part of the culture of the tribe?

So many of the old crafts and traditions were lost during the relocation that it’s difficult to know for sure what various tribes were good at. However, water baskets were not uncommon amongst coastal tribes, so it’s highly feasible the Siuslaw would’ve made them. Plus they had easy access to the types of reeds and grasses that would’ve been used.

Have you stayed at the El Tovar lodge in the Grand Canyon? If so, did that stay help your inspiration for the Inn?

Yes, we did stay at El Tovar (and loved it). We’ve visited a lot of the national park lodges and I’m a huge admirer of lodge style décor. I love bulky timbers, rustic furnishings, Native American style rugs, blankets, and artifacts. In fact we’ve incorporated some these same lodge style touches into our own homes.

Do you have a favorite character in River's Song? Why?

Anna is my favorite. I love her gentle spirit and gracious healing ways. I also love Grandma Pearl, whose wit and craftiness reminds me a bit of my own grandmother. But I love all the women, flaws and all. Even the characters that I really dislike at times (like Eunice) become rather dear to me by the time I peel back some of the crusty mean layers and discover the wounded woman beneath.

How likely is it for an inter-racial relationship between Caucasian and Indian?
It happened a lot more than people let on, which is one reason there are so few tribal members without ‘mixed blood.’ My husband’s grandmother was half Cherokee at a time when it was considered ‘shameful’ by some. As a result, his family has suffered from a multitude of problems that continue down through the generations. But there are also some very admirable strengths that come with that native heritage—a respect of the land, a love of nature, a deeper understanding of plants and animals.

How much research did River’s Song take?

As I mentioned I’d been researching out of personal interest for years. I read as many books as I could find on coastal tribes in the northwest. Also we have a good museum here in Florence. And because of Anna’s interest in healing, I’ve had a renewed interest in herbal medicines and natural remedies and keep a handbook nearby.

What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing River’s Song?

Although there is little written history about the Siuslaw tribe, I discovered that they lived in what sounded like a civilized village of wood cabins along the mouth of the river. The chief’s house was large enough to host guests (including white trappers and early settlers) almost like an inn. The tribe seemed to be prosperous and healthy. This isn’t always the picture we see depicted of Native Americans in history. But I can imagine these gentle people living peacefully along that beautiful part of the river. I can envision their children playing happily as their parents fished and created crafts that made life more pleasant. Peacefully exiting, free from white-man diseases, not consumed with greed…it really must’ve been a good way to live.


What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

Being self-employed is a bit of a challenge since I can sometimes be a tough boss. But over the years, I’ve learned to budget my time so that I work “normal” hours. And I try not to take on too much, which is a challenge because there are so many things that interest me. Also I’ve learned to make sure I plan for plenty of time for relaxing and regenerating. 

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

I love the process of actually writing. Because I don’t outline, it’s more of a discovery journey as I follow my characters, trying to figure out what drives them and why they are the way they are. I love not knowing what’s going to happen next. Or perhaps I know just enough to wonder how a certain situation is going to resolve itself. 

What clubs or organizations are you involved with helping with your writing?

Over the years, I’ve belonged to a number of organizations (from local writers associations to national ones) but I still have to say that my original critique group of a handful of fellow writer women was the most helpful to my writing. The support and encouragement I got there was foundational to my career. I still think of these women as mentors and will always be grateful for their influence.


Do you have a critique partner?

My agent is the closest thing to a critique partner these days and although she doesn’t have time to critique all my books, she always comes through when I run up against an unexpected challenge.

What were your favorite books as a child?

The first book I remember reading was The Velveteen Rabbit (sitting in the school library, I cried when I finished it). I also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. And I loved fairy tales.

What do you do to keep your writing fresh and improve on it each time you write a book?

I try to create characters that interest me, and I try to come up with new problems and challenges for them. I also love a good setting. And I plan to continue dabbling in some historic stories. I’m so easily interested in something new that’s it not hard to get me going in a completely different direction. I know this might confuse some readers who expect a certain type of story from a certain type of writer—with me they should probably just expect the unexpected.

Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

There are always new projects out there for me. As I mentioned I’m going to do a historical (an Oregon Trail wagon train trilogy that’s inspired by my ancestors). I also have some new things coming out for teens. And, of course, there is always my annual Christmas novella.

What message would you like your readers to take from reading River’s Song?

A major focus of the inn is on healing, which Anna believes is usually related to forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness is a big part of this trilogy.

What is your greatest achievement?

That’s a tough question. As a human, I could say that it’s been staying close to God for 40 years, but I’m not sure I can take any credit for that since God stays much closer to me. Or I could say it’s having been happily married to the same guy for 33 years, but my husband has a lot to do with that too. As far as writing goes, I suppose I could say it’s how many books I’ve written, but I’m not sure that’s a great achievement. Maybe my greatest achievement is yet to come!

What do you do to get away from it all?

We are blessed to live in a beautiful state (Oregon) and we have two homes—one in the mountains and one at the beach. I can get away from it all by going from one to the other and then back again. Right now I’m at the beach where the sun is shining and the temperature is about perfect today. No complaints.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just that it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I first started writing (in the late 80’s) I had no idea where it would take me. I simply wanted to write because I loved to write. I never dreamed it would turn into something like this. My husband and I just have to pause and shake our heads sometimes, marveling that God is so good to us. Anyway, I hope to continue writing until I’m a very old (and hopefully wise) woman.



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