Thursday, April 7, 2011

J. Michael Orenduff's Winning Pot Thief

by Jean Henry Mead

Michael Orenduff won a 2011 Lefty Award for his novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, published by Oak Tree Press. Another book in his series was reviewed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who wrote: "The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras has all the components of a great read – an intricate plot, quirky characters, crackling dialog, and a surprise ending. What’s more, Orenduff successfully captures the essence of New Mexico through humor, romance, and even a little philosophical musing. New Mexico’s rich history, people, food, and landscape come alive on its pages. . ."

Mike, you’ve had some great reviews, but how did you manage the one from Governor Bill Richardson?

I served as president of New Mexico State University back in the nineties when he was one of our Congressional Representatives. He was very supportive of higher education, and I worked with him (mostly his staff) on several projects, including one for Hispanic-serving institutions that tied NMSU with the University of Puerto Rico and some other universities in a federal project. So when I retired and started writing books, I asked him for the review and he graciously consented. And it didn’t hurt that my books attract attention for the state.

Tell us about your award-winning Pot Thief Mystery series.

The protagonist was a “pot hunter” in his early days, digging up and selling ancient pottery. When that practice was outlawed, he was rebranded as a pot thief, but he rationalizes what he does. Unfortunately, his clandestine excavations often tie him to a murder which he must solve to clear himself. He’s somewhat clueless but often gets inspiration and assistance from his sidekick Susannah who acquired her mystery solving skills by reading murder mysteries.

How important is humor in a mystery series?

I think every mystery, no matter how noir, must have some humor if for no other reason than to break the tension. In my books, even the tension is funny. At least I hope it is.

Your series has been described as a “thinking man’s mystery.” How would you describe it?

The protagonist is part thief, part social critic who finds popular culture unfathomable. He cherishes the naïve belief that reason works.

Why does someone with your advanced education decide to write mystery novels?

Because writing fiction is fun.

What are you working on now? And is there some project in the back of your mind you’d like to write about?

I also write plays. I have written two comedies, but now I am trying my hand at a serious play.

Who most influenced your own work?

Michael Bond, Lawrence Saunders, and Lawrence Block.

Advice to fledgling writers?

I wish I had some sage advice to pass along, but I don’t. One learns the craft of writing like one learns most skill – long hours of practice. Write, write, write. Take a break and read – you’ll see things in what you read that you wouldn’t have noticed before you started writing. Then repeat the cycle for a few years, always getting people to read your work and give you feedback. At some point you will look at your early attempts and shudder. That means you are making progress.

You can drop in on Mike anytime at his website:


Sunny Frazier said...

We at Oak Tree are incredibly proud of Mike and his Lefty win. He has been a huge asset for all of us and his books are a great addition to the mystery genre. Go Mike O!

Marja said...

Wonderful interview, Mike. And you write great books, too. I appreciate your brand of humor and the characters that you've created. And, congratulations again on your award. Awesome!

Lesley Diehl said...

Congrats on your Lefty. My husband and I used to live in New Mexico. We're looking forward to reading your work. There's nothing I like better than quirky characters and hubby loves the New Mexico setting. He has a book coming out this summer set in Tucumcari and will be promoting it by riding his motocycle cross country. You two may cross paths.
Anotehr Oak Tree Author,

jack59 said...

Nice going Mike you are starting to earn success and at the same time encourage others. You have even made an old boy like me consider entering a competition in the hope that some of your influence(I won't say luck)rubs off.

Jean Henry Mead said...


I'm currently enjoying reading The Pot Thief Who Studied Eistein and can't wait to read the rest of the series. You seem to write so effortlessly, but we both know that takes a lot of work. :)