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Thursday, August 25, 2011


Award-winning mystery author Mike Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico from his back yard, a practice frowned upon by his mother. Like his protagonist Hubert Schuze in his Pot Thief mystery series, Mike studied anthropology. He holds a doctorate in mathematical logic and he published a number of works with such scintillating titles as A Partially Truth-Functional Modal Calculus and Are Modal Contexts Referentially Opaque? Mike’s latest Pot Thief mystery is The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier. Read more about Mike and his Pot Thief books at his website. 

Mike has generously offered a copy of  The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP 

Why Do We Read

Like many authors, I became a writer after years of being an avid reader. I read all kinds of books – adventure, historical, travel, suspense, humor, and fantasy. But my favorite was murder mysteries. So when I retired and decided to try my hand at writing, I chose the mystery genre. After all those years of reading, you would think I knew why people read, but I didn’t. I just knew I loved to read, and many of my friends also loved to read. I never asked myself why.

I had been reading mysteries for over fifty years and I taught logic for forty years, so I figured I had the experience and skill to construct great plots. But when I gave my first stories to friends and family to read, they didn’t like them. It was only then that I asked myself why I read. Why anyone reads.

Thinking back on the books I loved the most, I realized they had one thing in common – interesting characters. The adventure books I liked the most were not those that had the wildest adventures; they were the ones with the most interesting adventurer. The travel books I liked the best were not those that dealt with the most exotic locations but with interesting travelers. And my favorite mysteries were those with the most engaging people. And it wasn’t always the protagonist who hooked me on a book. I liked Doyle because I found Dr. Watson such an engaging fellow, not because of Holmes’ stilted deductions. I didn’t like Nero Wolf as a person, but I loved Archie Goodwin, and that was enough to make me read all of Rex Stout’s books.

We read because we like to meet new and interesting people. Even better, we meet them without any of the anxiety and hassle of meeting real people. We don’t have to wear one of those silly “Hi My Name Is” stickers on our shirt. We don’t have to hold up our end of the conversation. We can escape a boor or a dullard by just closing the book and without fear of offending anyone. And we can do all of this in the comfort of our home while wearing pajamas and eating nachos.

I do not intend to imply that all readers are introverts. But even the most gregarious among us can tire of the social scene. Just ask yourself if you’ve ever been at a party and wished you were at home with a good book.

The Booklist starred review of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun – written by the host of this blog – starts with these words: “"Oddball characters, uproariously funny situations, and a heroine with a strong sense of irony.” Not plot. Not mystery. Oddball characters and a heroine with a strong sense of irony. That is why we read.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Mike, and for the mention of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun at the end of your post. We are definitely an oddball group of characters! ;-)  Readers, don't forget to post a comment to be entered into the drawing to win a copy of The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy. Be sure to check back on Sunday to find out if you're the lucky winner.-- AP


Liz V. said...

Best wishes for success of The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier and all your books--Ptolemy, Pythagoras, and Einstein. Nice reviews for all of them.

Caridad Pineiro said...

Much success with all the books. They sound fascinating. Like you, the characters are what make the book for me. Some are like old friends that I visit over and over.

Patricia said...

I've never thought about this before and I loved your post. I write character-driven novels but didn't start out with that decision in mind. It just grew out of my writing. But I had decided from the beginning to write what I like to read and I enjoy getting to know the people in books. Thank you for this post. It truly gave me something to think about for my next novel.

KathyW said...

Your books sound fascinating. Loved the Escoffier excerpt on your website. For me characters are definitely more important than plot, too. I want people I enjoy spending time with.

Unknown said...

There have been several times when I've wished that I could actually meet some of the characters in a mystery series or go to a fictional place. Reading is a truly a magical thing.

Anonymous said...

Your post today was thought provoking. Your novels are captivating and unique especially the settings which to me are as important as the characters. best wishes for continued success. Ellie.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely familiar with the locale of your books. What a great place which has such an unforgettable atmosphere, beauty and fascinating individuals. These books would be enjoyable and fascinating. Good luck. Your post was wonderful. Ruth.

Anonymous said...

Super post. Like your characters, your personality shone through and walked off the page. I can't wait to read The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy!

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Mike!

Great post. I'd never really considered why people read. It's something I've always done.

As a writer, I find my plots come to me first, and then I have to 'meet' the characters who are going to solve the problems set up in the plot.

I have to give you credit - math was never my strong suit and rarely seems logical to me!

Anonymous said...

Loved this post, Mike. When a writer struggles over plot, it's nice to be reminded that the characters are what readers are interested in. You are so right! Thanks for this.

john M. Daniel said...

Fine post, Mike. Yes, characters are essential to entertainment and also to driving the plot. We read into a book to meet people (funny people, wise people, weirdos, vamps, villains and heroes), and then we read on to find out what will happen to them.

Athanasia said...

I will have to try this series. i certainly hear it mentioned often on the DorothyL list. I do love a good batch of characters in a series...they become friends to hang out with. They may go away for a bit, but then they come back and it was like they were never gone.

WS Gager said...

Mike: Great post. There has been many a night I have been at a function and wished I had my bunny slippers on and my nose in the current read. I've been indulging that side lately reading more and writing less and now need to flip back to writing more. My reading love will be crying with the reduced time but Mitch Malone has no patience and his voice is getting louder and louder. Loved The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy and have a review I need to post. Good thing I had the review done. My mother saw the book on my coffee table and absconded with it saying she'd heard good things about it and none of them were from me! Will prod her to review as well!
Happy fall and back to school!

Lynn Cahoon said...

Maybe this is why I always try to figure out the real people in my life, I'm always figuring out the ones in the book. Analyzing their motives. I'm so disappointed when a triple homicide turns out to be drug related or just happenstance. I want a compelling story people!

So I read.

Holli Castillo said...

You've certainly accomplished the task of creating interesting characters. My favorite part about reading is the dynamics between the characters. Relationships--whether romantic, family, antagonistic, (and hopefully not too much crossover between the three!)--are what keep me engrossed in a book and make me want to read the next one by the author or the next in the series. Hubie and his crew of the Pot Thief definitely fit the bill of characters I want to keep on reading.

P.I. Barrington said...

Also there's just the love of words. Reading is a creative exercise of the mind.

Mike Orenduff said...

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment. I’m anxious to see who won the book.

Liz, thanks for noticing the reviews. I have been fortunate to have mostly positive ones.

Caridad, hope my characters become “old friends” that you visit over and over.

Patricia, like you, I didn't start out with characters in mind, but I learned that they were the core of the story.

Kathy, thanks for visiting the website.

Janel, I’d be glad to have you meet my characters. They are at least as real as the imaginary friends I had as a child!

Ellie, thank you for the kind remarks.

Thanks, Ruth. It’s nice to hear from someone who knows the locale and doesn’t think I got it all wrong.

Anne, can’t wait to have you blog on my site.

Hi Kathy. Yeah, I can’t remember when I didn’t read.

C.K. and John, you are both so right. Nice to know that our publishers agrees with us!

Elizabeth, if you do try the series, let me know what you think. I love feedback, especially if it is honest.

Thanks, Wendy. You know Mitch is one of my favorite characters.

Lynn, I love your phrase, ”compelling story people.”

Holli, so you like the “dynamics between the characters. Relationships--whether romantic, family, antagonistic, (and hopefully not too much crossover between the three!)” Are you kidding me? Your characters have more crossover than any I know. That’s why they seem so real and why they are so popular. Never before has someone so cute created such gritty characters.

Finally, I think P.I. added a good point, “Also there's just the love of words.” Our characters rely on us to bring them to life with the right words.

Thanks for the great comments. And thanks to Lois (and Anastasia) for hosting me.