Behind the Scenes: Santa Fe Day 3

As you might have gathered, the star of this production is somewhat of a gustatorian, or in the modern parlance, a foodie. As a result, I had to pay particular attention to what he ate and where. This characteristic pops up in the first chapter and continues on, climaxing in the last third of the novel in a memorable Friday in Portland where Hensley hits six or so establishments, all of which I can personally recommend.

It’s kind of a Bloomsday tour de force, if I can be so bold.

But back in Santa Fe, I needed the quintessential breakfast spot for Hensley, and my good friend and fellow writer Chadwick Wall, a frequent habitue of Santa Fe, pointed me in the right direction. I did my online research and was sold.

On site, I found a spot in the parking garage next door to Tia Sophia’s and walked past the infamous Carl taking a smoke break before I realized who he was. I resisted the urge to backtrack and introduce myself as it felt like it could be a bit awkward, so I proceeded on to do a bit of shopping for The Woman, particularly at the Christmas Store where I picked up some ornaments for our new scaled-down Christmas tree. Then I scoped out the Loretto Chapel, of which I spoke earlier, and returned to Tia Sophia’s for a Christmas burrito for lunch, just as Hensley does.

Tia Sophia's Christmas burrito
Tia Sophia’s Christmas burrito

I lacked the good fortune to be seated in Carl’s territory, but did score a table nearby where I could watch him in action. Carl is a force to be reckoned with. I took note of his interaction with his wards and copped some of his best lines for the novel. The Christmas burrito was everything you would expect. As I paid my bill I struck up a conversation with the owner, Nick, who turned out to be fellow writer, and spent the next hour chatting with him at a side table. Just an example of a fortuitous concourse of events that one encounters when one leaves one’s self-imposed hermitage and ventures into the real world.

But back in the world of The Reluctant Saint, our hero must sojourn to Portland, OR, and being techo-reluctant, he lacks the smartphone required to guide him to his destination. So he goes old school. Triple A.

I proceeded to the AAA office on Cerillos and posed my rather unorthodox question to the ever-helpful Brenda. It turned out that the exact map Hensley needed was readily available—a road map of the Northwest US. And thus our hero is on his way to Portland, as are we in the next installment, a wonderful city with much to recommend it.

The AAA map is a minor detail, to be sure, but let us recall the purpose of this exercise—achieving verisimilitude. What John Gardner called the fictive dream, a state of process for the writer, but more importantly, an experience for the reader.

By the way, if you’re a fan of literary fiction and  haven’t read Gardner’s Grendel, rectify that deficit immediately! Short book, large book, head melting book.


Since this is a short day in the location-scouting department, I’m going to clear off a space and have a fit, as Dr. Davis used to say.

I sit out on my deck in the wee hours of the night/morning and make up crazy stories that have no fact but much truth as I see it. Then you read them in whatever circumstance you choose to consume fiction. If I do my job, it’s like we’re having a conversation.

That’s how I see this thing that we do, you and I. On some level I know that many people will read what I write, but that’s not how I live the story. I write one on one. The rest of the world fades, and it’s just the two of us taking this journey, a voyage of discovery.

I started The Reluctant Saint with a name (Chrystal), a place (Santa Fe), and a structure (the stations of the cross). I also had the notion that after decades of wandering, Hensley would have to face some serious facts. But it wasn’t until the fourth draft and the penultimate chapter that I realized the ultimate root of Hensley’s dilemma.

As Davison says, “How bad do you want it?” For most of us, the answer is, “Not bad enough.”

If I were a sane man, I wouldn’t waste all these hours cranking this stuff out. But history shows I’m not all that sane. I’m reasonable enough on the surface, but bent where it matters. It could be my motto.

The Wunderfool: Reasonable, but marginally sane.

Just ask The Woman. Or the Number One Son. Or the Good Daughter. They know. As the latter-day poet and philosopher Leonard Cohen said, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

After a few decades on this planet, I’m convinced that we’re all broken to some degree. Some of us are just better at hiding it. And the first step to mending the broken place is to quit pretending it’s not broken.

Hensley doesn’t know it on page one, but in all his travels, from Galveston to Santa Fe to D.C. to Philly to Santa Fe to Portland, that is his destination.

Next stop: Oregon.