Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Man Who Writes Pot Thief Mysteries

Photos: Cover of Michael Orenduff’s first mystery, photo from the Web; Michael and Lai Orenduff holding copies of their books, photo by Paul Leavy, The Valdosta (GA) Daily Times.

By Pat Browning

Michael Orenduff made quite a splash with his first mystery, THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PYTHAGORAS. His protagonist is Hubert Schuze, a New Mexico dealer in artifacts, mainly old clay pots. The source of his inventory may be open to question.

Orenduff has a second book almost ready for publication, THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PTOLEMY. Two more are in progress -- THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED EINSTEIN and THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED D.H. LAWRENCE.

You can read excerpts from all four books on The Pot Thief Murder Mysteries Web Site:

In a May 27th article, “A Marriage of Words,” Dean Poling of the Valdosta (Georgia) Daily Times examined the writing team of Orenduff and his wife, Lai. Both are on the faculty at Valdosta State University. Former high school sweethearts, they have a son who is a dean at Columbia University and a daughter in Poland on a Fulbright scholarship.

Lai Orenduff is an art historian. Her new book is THE TRANSFORMATION OF CATHOLIC RELIGIOUS ART IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: FATHER MARIE-ALAIN COURTURIER AND THE CHURCH AT ASSI, FRANCE. Published by the Edwin Mellen Press, it contains color plates and costs $109.

Apparently the Orenduffs work well together, even though Lai’s book is an academic work, while Michael’s book is a fun mystery launching a series that could have a long run.

Be all that as it may, what first drew my attention to Michael Orenduff was his Sept. 8th post to the DorothyL mystery listserv. There was an ongoing discussion of exclusivity practices by some mystery organizations based on whether an author’s publisher was on an approved list.

Michael’s post, with the subject line “Writing as democratic creativity,” is simply the best article on writing I’ve read in a long time. With his permission, I’m reprinting it here.
Writing is the most democratic of all creative endeavors. Few of us can paint or compose music, but almost everyone can write. The percentage of the population who can write well may not be any larger than the percentage of those who can compose music well, but the difference is that those of us without composing skills don’t try to write music. Those of us who cannot draw don’t enter local art competitions. But people who can’t write are more dogged than would-be painters and composers. That is why there are self-publishing companies for books but not for music scores. That is why there are few galleries that will hang whatever you bring them, and almost none that will do so for a fee.

Yes, we teach music and art in school, but after completing the handful of required courses, most students never again pick up a brush, never again place a quarter-note or a rest. But students write in every course, though not so much as in the past, alas. One of the most significant developments in higher education in the last quarter century is the explosion of classes using personal essays to enable students to understand themselves, to become more introspective and thoughtful, and to grow as learners.

In my course on Philosophy of Race this semester, I’m requiring students to blog on the topic and their blogs determine 40% of their grade. I’m not looking for sentence structure and narrative form; I’m looking for thought. I want them to engage their minds in intense analysis of complex issues, and the only way I know to do that is to write it down.

Those of you who are still reading at this point may be wondering whether I have a point to make. I do, and thanks for sticking with me. Nothing on my class blog will ever be published. I doubt a single one of my students will ever publish an essay or short story, much less a book. But they might. And if they do, it deserves to be read. Not published, but read. By a professor maybe or just a friend. And if it’s good, maybe a few other people.

There is a smeared carbon copy of a manuscript at my alma mater,Tulane University. The author’s mother discovered it after her son killed himself. She took it to a faculty member at Loyola University of New Orleans. Somehow (I play with the possible dialog in my head), she convinced him to read it. Eleven year’s after the author’s death, A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize.

Readers, not organizations, should decide the fate of books. Any organization of writers that excludes writers on any basis whatsoever is not worthy of being called a writers’ group.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks for sharing, Pat. Your posts are always interesting.

Chester Campbell said...

DorothyL includes so many posts on such a variety of topics that I scan the digests and read only ones that sound like I'd be interested. I missed this one, but many thanks for posting it here. I found Orenduff's piece delightful. As a board member of an MWA chapter, I was chastised once by the powers that be for giving my views on the subject, so I will say no more.

Anonymous said...

Mark and Chester,

Orenduff is an academic (with an interesting background) who apparently retired and decided he didn't just want to twiddle his thumbs.

His pot thief mysteries sound different enough and funny enough to be successful. I personally love the New Mexico setting.

Pat B.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Interesting post, Pat. I wish I'd had a professor like Orenduff while I was in school. His comments on writers is spot on.