Behind the Scenes: Santa Fe Day 1

“Hensley wondered what Chrystal in Santa Fe was doing these days.” -last sentence of Endless Vacation

In case you were wondering, that sentence was all I had to go on as I set out to write the story of Hensley. That and the U2 song Moment of Surrender. If there is a thinner basis for a novel, I’d like to hear it.

I do not overstate the case when I say that I faced the story of The Reluctant Saint with utmost trepidation and humility. How else could one face the redemption story of a character such as Hensley? A self-serving bohemian. A calculating bon vivant.  The ground zero of the human condition.

The respectable among us can look at Hensley and say, “At least I’m not like him.” But some will immediately recognize the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. If I may be so bold, I would say that this story reveals two things:

  1. Other than an attitude of repentance, there is no difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector, although the Pharisee might not recognize it. Nor the tax collector, when it comes down to it.
  2. The only thing any of us can cling to is the grace offered to both the Pharisee and the tax collector.

We are all Hensley, whether or not we are willing to admit it. (See Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.) If you look at your life and doubt this truth, see #1. And then read The Ragamuffin Gospel.

That being said, I will now clear off a space and have a talk about Hensley and me and my critique group.

Somehow I managed to get three novels published without a critique group. Actually, I know how I did it. As a son of a preacher growing up in East Texas, I operated on sheer storytelling instinct. However, I can say this without qualification: if I had enjoyed the benefit of my critique group and employed the good sense to listen to their sage advice, the first three Fred books would have been five times better than they are. These people are amazing.

Okay, we got that said and every word true, but here’s the thing. As brilliant as the critique group is, if you are a fan of the Fred books, you know me better than they do. And here’s the proof. They thought Hensley was my alter ego. When this came up in a critique session of The Reluctant Saint, I told them a few stories of my college roommate, and they realized the error of their ways. Compared to Hensley, I have the manipulative skills of an amoeba.

That being said, I had an experience in 2005 that I leveraged as I developed Hensley, both in Endless Vacation and The Reluctant Saint.

Hensley’s proclivity for opportunistic wardrobe expansion is based on a bad decision on my part over ten years ago. When I was living in Hawaii, I traveled to Denver for a week-long conference. Since it was June, I packed shorts and aloha shirts. When I arrived, I discovered the forecast was for highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s. Rookie mistake, even though I was far from a travel rookie.

As you probably know, it’s a 45-minute drive from the Denver airport to downtown, so as soon as I got into my rental car, I called The Woman back in HI and asked for the address of a Goodwill store. The most convenient location turned out to be in Golden, at which I acquired a charcoal grey sports coat for $9.99 that is still my favorite jacket. (You can see it when we get to Portland.) I got some jeans, socks, and shoes at a Target, and I was set for the week.

Which brings us back to Hensley. As demonstrated in Endless Vacation, with Hensley, it’s all about traveling light. If it won’t fit in a duffel, you don’t need it.

When The Reluctant Saint opens in Galveston, Texas, Hensley is traveling as light as they come. All he has is the clothes he’s wearing. Not surprisingly, Hensley soon finds that a hasty exit is the best policy, and within 24 hours he’s in Santa Fe looking for Chrystal.

As is his custom, his first order of business is to acquire a climate-appropriate wardrobe, and so he directs the cabbie to deliver him to the nearest Goodwill store, the one on Cerillos Rd. I found it much like any other Goodwill I’ve encountered. (When I got to Portland, I discovered a horse of a completely different color.)

Hensley gets what he needs at the Goodwill and proceeds via taxi to Chrystal’s house. As I was doing research from my hermit den in Texas, I consulted the forums on, talked with friends familiar with Santa Fe, and ended up with three candidates for Chrystal’s neighborhood.

The first neighborhood I tried had gravel roads, but despite that rustic touch, it was slightly too rizty for the story. The second neighborhood, Casa Solana (north of Alameda St, west of St Francis Dr), was just what I was looking for. I felt like I could pull up in any random driveway, knock on the door, and Chrystal would answer. But I resisted the urge. Sometimes discretion truly is the better part of valor. And I am nothing if not discreet, as you know.

The next location in my itinerary was a lonesome patch south of town on Highway 14. Through a combination of circumstances too convoluted for me to relate, Hensley finds himself afoot on this stretch of road, thankful to have lost nothing more than $700 of operating capital.

  • Highway 14 where Hensley is tossed out to fend for himself.

He uses a convenience store to call a cab and equalize his holdings. Then he re-establishes his locale-appropriate wardrobe at his favorite Goodwill and  eventually finds a room for the night at the Silver Saddle Motel.

Due to a travel crisis of my own making (a whole nother  story) I checked into in the Silver Saddle  just a few minutes short of 10 p.m. I installed myself into The Lone Ranger room (#14) and found it entirely to my liking as a place Hensley would find acceptable. Utilitarian but comfortable, and most of all, economical.

  • Silver Saddle Motel: The Code of the West
    Silver Saddle Motel: The Code of the West

The next morning I chatted with the proprietor for half-an-hour or so and learned that the affordability part was a conscious decision to establish a connection with travelers who appreciate authenticity and community. In other words, they are our kind of people. The kind you would gladly sit down with over a cuppa and a pastry and swap stories. Good people. If you find yourself in need of a room in Santa Fe, your first stop should be the Silver Saddle. And tell them I said hello.

Based on what Hensley learns in Santa Fe, he heads to Washington D.C.