The Road Not Noticed

Last week I mentioned that one of the delightful digressions in Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras is Hubie’s reflection on the superior merits of walking compared to driving. Some of my favorite passages in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire are his rants about tourists who never get out of their vehicles when they visit a national park, and somehow think they have seen it that way. I thought about all this on a recent trip to cold wet rainy Maine, when I discovered a road I’d never noticed before. My sister, who lives there, had never noticed it either. We drove past it.

Sunday, after hours and hours of steady rain, I accepted that I couldn’t go running and did a lot of intense sun salutations instead. And then the sun came out. I’m not taking credit, and it didn’t stay out long, but at least the rain stopped. Since I wear barefoot shoes, I don’t run on pavement, but on grass and dirt, and my usual Maine-visit running route was swamped. So I took off down the verge of Route 1, traffic and all, and immediately spotted a road I’d never noticed before. Left turn into new territory.

It was beautiful, a hilly route through green deep woods, with a few houses set back among the trees. I ran in the narrow strip of dirt between the pavement and the vegetation, and crossed a little bridge over a gleaming silvery wetland that turned into a flowing stream. The road then led to an intersection with a spectacular view of a farm with open fields, well-kept old buildings painted the classic farm red, and a flock of freshly shorn sheep, a dozen white and one black. Their wet skins glistened in the soft light.

Driving, I don’t explore. I go somewhere. Running, I found a place of great beauty I doubt I could have enjoyed so much from the window of a car even if I were inclined toward idle Sunday drives. The sensory experience came from immersion in the outdoors as well as the unexpected. Frogs were bellowing and chirping, calling back and forth with songs as varied as those of the birds, making the Maine woods sound like a jungle.

A New Mexico Mystery Review: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

Pot thief 1

There is no sub-genre within the mystery genre that could classify this book, and I mean that as a compliment. Pot thief and pottery shop owner Hubie Schuze is so unlike any other protagonist in a mystery series, I can’t compare this to other books and say “it’s like X.” It’s not.

So what is it like? Albuquerque.

I suspect Hubie might cringe at the phrase “Keep Albu quirky,” but it’s not a bad way to introduce him and his way of looking at the world and loving his city. Orenduff has a knack for describing people with a few clear images that pick out their defining peculiarities, positive or just plain odd, and this seems to be integral to Hubie’s point of view. He sees people as they are—and sees himself as he is, too, with humor and humility despite some strong opinions. His delightful digressions are as essential to the flavor of the book as seasonings are to a good meal. One of his rambles is on the benefits and pleasures of walking in the city compared to driving, and it fit with the way I felt while reading. I had such fun being in the moment with Hubie and his friends that I forgot to try to figure out whodunit.

Hubie figures it out, of course, and the end is surprising. I wouldn’t have seen that coming even if I had been trying to solve the crime. Don’t let my drifting with the Tao of Hubie make you think this book is unstructured. It isn’t. Multiple intriguing subplots—adventures that are sometimes humorous and sometimes simply human—are interwoven with the mystery plot.

Hubie’s capacity for friendship and generosity is on equal footing with his inclination to break a few laws. It’s this combination of rogue and good guy that makes him so engaging. The acts of kindness as well as the minor crimes Hubie commits while solving a major one kept me looking at the scenery, walking, appreciating every step of the way.


 My interview with J. Michael Orenduff will follow my review of the newest book in the series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keefe. I’ve had the pleasure of reading it early, before the ARCs come out. Keep an eye out for that review and interview in the upcoming months. Meanwhile, get into the flow with Hubie with this first Pot Thief book.






Time, Space, and Connection

When I teach my college classes on health and wellness, I usually introduce some meditation techniques to give students a taste of managing stress through mindfulness rather than distraction. A few weeks ago a student stopped to talk with me after class with a question about meditation. This student was an experienced meditator, and something she didn’t understand had begun to happen. I don’t understand it, either—I’m not sure anyone really does—but I assured her that it happens to other people, and that it happened to me when I first began to practice meditation regularly many years ago. She had begun to have psychic experiences.

In yoga, these effects are called the siddhis, the extraordinary powers. In most meditation practices, these aren’t so much a goal as a side effect of deeper and higher awareness, though in shamanic cultures they’re considered a gift.

My student wasn’t troubled by her “side effects” at first. Her boyfriend found it amusing when she could tell time precisely without looking at a clock, or knew when her phone was about to ring and who would be calling. But then she had a vision of a car crash, so vivid she could see the color and make of the car as well as the way it spun and flipped. The next day she was driving on a major highway and saw that car ahead of her—and it had the accident she’d foreseen. She found it both terrifying and bewildering, to be able to know something like that and yet be unable to do anything about it.

About ten years ago in a stress management class, I mentioned the tendency for shared dreams, foreknowledge, or other psi phenomena to occur as a side effect of meditation, and student who had initially thought this wasn’t possible later contacted me privately with a story that still moves and stuns me. She dreamed that her best friend got shot, and on the same night, he had the same dream. It was so vivid and frightening, they called each other and she went to his house. They spent hours together and shared how much they meant to each other. The next day, he was shot and killed.

Why one person foresaw a stranger’s car accident and another foresaw the last moment of a friend’s life—and he foresaw it, too—I don’t know. I’ve had precognitive dreams and visions of important events, and also of incredibly trivial but strange ones. I can’t explain it. Time reshapes itself. Sometimes our losses, loves and dangers reach out to us. At other times, we simply slip through for no known reason, foreseeing oddities that grab our attention the next day, as if to remind us that the mind or soul isn’t confined to the linear progress of time. It lives where everything is happening at once—the past, the future, the present, and the possible.

New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Vanessa A. Ryan

PaletteForMurderFront-(w)V.Ryan copy

Vanessa A. Ryan is an actress in Southern California. She was born in California and graduated from UCLA. When not writing or acting, she enjoys painting and nature walks. Her paintings and sculptures are collected worldwide. At one point, she performed stand-up comedy, so her writing often reflects her love of humor, even for serious subjects. She is the author of A Palette for Murder, A Blue Moon and the trilogy Horror at the Lake. She lives with her cats Dezi, Teger and Riley, and among feral cats she has rescued.

The art works featured in this interview are by Vanessa A. Ryan

AF: How did this book start? Tell me about your creative process.

VAR: The book started with a visit to Santa Fe. Originally, the story took place in Los Angeles but ended up in Santa Fe. But when I moved to Santa Fe, I changed the focus of the story to Santa Fe, with brief forays into California. Regardless, the ending of the story is similar. In fact, when I lived in Santa Fe, my house burned down and I lost the last version of this novel that was in my computer. I found half of an older version of the manuscript on the upper shelf of a coat closet. Everything below the shelf had burned, but the first half of the manuscript was intact, as well as the last page of it. I was overjoyed when I found the manuscript until I realized it wasn’t up-to-date and not all of it was there. I set it aside for quite a few years until I rewrote it last year.

AF: Amazing. It sounds as if this book was meant to be. What’s your relationship with Santa Fe?

VAR: I had visited Santa Fe a few times and then I lived there for several years.

AF: Tell me about your research. Did any of the galleries bring you behind the scenes?

VAR: I have exhibited my work in Santa Fe so I know the art scene. I also have an artist friend who lives there and keeps me informed about the galleries. I didn’t go behind the scenes for the book, though I have on other occasions.

Ryan_Collage Series City Rain 54in x 54in acryl and wood on canvas 2009Ryan_Collage Series The Lake 54in x 54in acryl and wood and canvas collage on canvas 2009

AF: Have you done work like Lana’s job in the insurance industry? You seem to know the business inside out.

VAR: I wrote a series of articles for an insurance correspondence school as a freelance job, which is how I learned about that industry. Also, my first job out of college was a claims examiner for a large insurance company. I didn’t go in the field, but stayed in the office taking statements and writing up claims.

AF: I’m curious about that Picasso. Is this based on an actual or rumored work of his?

VAR: The last Picasso isn’t based on the last painting he did. It’s fiction.

AF: I noticed you used a blend of both real locations and fictitious ones. How did you go about deciding when to fictionalize and when ones to use real names? (Example: Suique Pueblo, fictitious; Canyon Road, real.)

VAR: I did that for legal reasons. My publisher has guidelines on this issue that I had to follow. I didn’t want to write about an actual tribe, but using real streets and towns, as long as they didn’t pertain to an actual address or business, was okay.

AF: Lana is pretty darned fearless, not only about getting hurt but about getting caught. Is she like you? Or is she pure invention?

VAR: She’s more invention than not. What we have in common are blond highlights, a disdain for snobs and a driving curiosity to know things. I wanted a character who is a little gutsy and not afraid to delve into the unknown. While I’m as curious about things as she is, I have a healthy respect for danger and I like to stay away from it. But I am as outspoken as Lana is fearless. And sometimes that gets me into trouble. I guess that’s my version of living dangerously. And if there’s something I want to know, I like doing detective work—just not in person as Lana does—only online, on the phone, or by researching articles and books.

AF: If you could spend a week in Santa Fe doing anything you wanted, what would you do?

VR: I would check out the scenery, the art galleries and hang out in some of my favorite watering holes. Like Lana, I don’t drink but I enjoy being in a crowded bar. More conversation to eavesdrop on for my next book.

AF: Is there anything you’d like to add?

VR: I hope readers will enjoy Lana’s adventures and the strange and haunting landscape of New Mexico.

Vanessa Ryan blue, yellow, green triptych 3-12 inch square paintings


Follow Vanessa A. Ryan at