Thursday, December 1, 2011


Today’s guest on the Murder We Write blog tour is the prolific and thought-provoking and wildly entertaining Mike Orenduff, author of the Pot Thief mystery series. Here’s Mike’s official biography: 

Mike Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico. He came by his love of pueblo pottery during weekends, buying small pots from the pueblos his family visited and–in one case–acquiring one when his sister traded chocolate chip cookies for it. His love of pottery expanded to a general interest in archaeology which he studied as an undergraduate.

While in graduate school at the University of New Mexico, Mike worked during the summer as a volunteer teacher at one of the nearby pueblos. He went on to serve as President of New Mexico State University and as a visiting faculty member at West Point and President of Bermuda College. After retiring from higher education, he rekindled his love of the Southwest by writing his award-winning Pot Thief murder mysteries which combine archaeology and philosophy with humor and mystery.  Among his many awards are the New Mexico Book of the Year, the “Lefty” national award for best humorous mystery and two “Eppies” for the best eBook mysteries.
His first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, was described by The Baltimore Sun as, “funny at a very high intellectual level and deliciously delightful,” and his latest, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, was called “the perfect fusion of murder, mayhem and margaritas” by The El Paso Times.
Impressed? Me too. And as for me I’m jealous. But I forgive Mike for such success, because he deserves it, and I love his writing.
I asked Mike the following question: What is the relationship between fiction and truth? Here is the best answer I’ve ever read to that oft-asked question. Get ready to think.

Asking a philosopher to blog about truth is risky, but limiting that blog to 500 words lessens the risk of me rambling on about everyone from Socrates to Sartre.

So I’ll have to aim for short and shocking.

There is no truth. There are only approximations of reality, ‘intimations’ as Wordsworth called them. Fiction is often closer to reality than newspapers and almost always closer than television news.

How can I say there is no truth when millions of people believe the Bible is literally true? The answer is they are wrong. They may be, and often are, fine individuals, but their belief is no more logical than believing a circle has corners. It’s a conceptual impossibility.

I need offer only one example to prove my case.  According to John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” That statement is obviously not literal truth. Jesus was not a vine. He was a man, a Jew, a prophet, and–according to hundreds of millions–the Son of God.  But he was not a vine. Jesus did not have leaves and clusters of grapes growing on Him. 

Of course Jesus didn’t really think he was a vine.  He was using a metaphor.  When he called Peter a rock, he was using another metaphor.  A rock is something solid, a foundation. Peter was the foundation of the Church. But he would be the proper study of a biologist, not a geologist.

Metaphors are not true. Neither are they false. They are literary devices. They are useful in teaching, and Jesus was a great teacher.  He compared himself to a vine to get across the idea that we–as metaphorical branches–cannot bear fruit unless we cling to Him.

I mention this topic not to debate religious doctrine but to make an extreme point about truth. There isn’t any. At least not any literal truth. Jesus’ parables teach us important values. It doesn’t matter whether they are literally true. Great fiction, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, also teaches us important values. It doesn’t matter that Atticus is a fictional character; the truths we learn from him are real.

The great novelist W. Somerset Maugham once said, “There are three rules to writing a great novel. Unfortunately, no-one knows what they are.”  I think I know one of them. There must be truth. Not the sort of literal truth some people claim is in the Bible. Not the self-serving truths politicians claim to know. But truths of the human condition. When you finish an excellent novel, you should feel that somehow you understand the world a little better. You may not have learned a single fact. After all, you have been reading fiction. But your mind and your heart should be more open to things more important than facts.

John here. I have nothing to add to this fine essay except to say, Bravo.

Now a word from our sponsor:

The Pot Thief Who Studied PythagorasThe Pot Thief Who Studied PtolemyThe Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier are published by Oak Tress Press and are available as paperbacks in many Barnes & Nobles, Hastings, and Independent bookstores and as ebooks on Kindle and Nook readers.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier is a quirky repast of piñon-infused chimeneas, New Mexican sunsets, and a delightful band of foodie misfits.  It is best enjoyed in the fading glow of a Southwestern sunset, a fire crackling beside you, a faithful dog at your feet.” —The El Paso Times
Blog: www.The Pot
Buy Link for the latest book:

A final note from John: During the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, I will be keeping track of the comments left for the guests on my blog. After the tour, I'll draw one name out of a hat, and that lucky person will be given a copy of my new book, Behind the Redwood Door, as well as a copy of my short story collection, Generous Helpings. But I'll need to contact the winner, so if you're interested, leave your email address at the end of your comment.


  1. I've always liked Conrad's line: 'Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence.'

  2. Mike--two great blogs in one day--I'm impressed and delighted! Love both your posts.


  3. Mike, thanks for appearing with me today, and for such a thought-provoking post. Your books are thought-provoking, too. And great entertainment in the bargain.

  4. This is nothing short of brilliant, Mike. I'm copying it and putting it into the file where I keep things that I don't want to lose -- maybe one thing in 10,000 I read online.

  5. Mike,
    I found alot of truth in The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagorus. My brother-in-law is from Fort Sumner and so the tidbits I have heard from him about New Mexico were correctly portrayed in your first novel. Now, on to the rest, as soon as I find a copy.

  6. Wow, Mike, loved your post, and absolutely agree about what we call "the truth."

  7. Fiction is one of the few places where we may find comfort in not debating truths. Thanks for an excellent post.

  8. Fiction is "truths of the human condition." Brilliant. Thank you...and the sad truth is I will likely steal this line. Another truth of the human condition.

    (Okay, I'm exaggerating, but I'm tempted. VERY tempted.)

    Kudos, Mike!