Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

If I were merely interested in selling copies of the second Dakota & Svetlana adventure, The Rich Are Different, I would probably release the novel now. According to reviews of the first book, there is certainly a demand for the second. And by the standards of most readers, not to mention many other writers in the detective genre, as it stands now The Rich Are Different is entertaining, compelling and engaging enough that fans waiting for the second installment would be pleased.

What page one of the new Dakota novel looks like.

The case is sufficiently complex, and Dakota & Svetlana’s repartee is enjoyable. There’s ample humor, variety of scene, and a balance of action and reflection. Overall, when compared to similar works in the detective/PI genre, the novel is “good enough,” and most other mystery authors wouldn’t hesitate to release it.

But here’s the thing: while I would love to sell 25,000 copies of The Rich Are Different tomorrow, it’s more important to me to put out my very best work. I want you readers to have the best experience possible, and in order to accomplish this, I have to have the attitude that “good enough isn’t good enough.” I have to pursue excellence.

A reviewer at IndieReader, Maya Fleischmann, writes of A Real Piece of Work (ARPoW), “Action, lust, danger, style and witty repartee, Orcutt’s A Real Piece of Work is a work of art.” Naturally, I was pleased by her comment because when I wrote ARPoW I set out to create a work of art first, and a detective novel second. In other words, I wanted to make the novel as much a piece of art as I could—within the limitations of the story, characters and genre. This is what I’m after with The Rich Are Different as well, and all I can say is, it’s not there yet.

As you’ll see when it does come out, besides being a mere detective story, The Rich Are Different is meant to be an homage to two works I love deeply: The Great Gatsby and Westerns. Therefore, until the novel is a compelling mystery that pays sufficient tribute to Gatsby and Westerns, I can’t release it. I sense there are still tweaks I can make to bring the novel closer to my original vision for it: a detective story that combines the urbane sophistication of the affluent East with the rough and wild nature of the Old West. We’ll see whether I realize this vision.

The inauspicious original cover of the 2nd Spenser novel.

Paradoxically, reviews of ARPoW and comments from readers—almost unanimous in their gushing praise (no pressure)—have made editing The Rich Are Different a highly torturous process because I want readers to be even more wowed and moved by the sequel, and I don’t know if that’s possible. In fact, I’ve spent the last 2 sessions with my psychiatrist discussing whether, with ARPoW, I might have created an act that is impossible to follow.

Fortunately, besides being an excellent doctor, she is also an avid reader of mysteries, and mystery series in particular. She assures me (as do my wife and best friends) that readers of series are in it for the long haul, that they don’t expect the next book in a series to trump the previous one. Referring to the creator of the Spenser series, Robert B. Parker, my doctor shrewdly asks me, “Is every one of Parker’s novels better than its predecessor?” I think about this—especially the second in the series, God Save the Child—and I have to answer with an unequivocal “No.” Yet, she points out, once a year readers would line up for the next installment.

Now, I hope I don’t sound defeatist here, because I’m confident that in many respects The Rich Are Different surpasses ARPoW. It’s just that, in addition to the Sisyphus-like labors of editing, I’ve been grappling with the intimidating notion of having to follow a critical success. And in case you can’t tell, it hasn’t been easy.

Rest assured, I am working on The Rich Are Different every day, and every day it gets a step closer to completion. Thank you for your continued patience.

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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (5)

  1. B Hill May 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Of course readers of ARPoW are enthused about its sequel. Being enthused about something yet-to-come is easy; being disappointed by something hastily put together is hard. Take your time and be satisfied with your words. If you’re happy with them, your readers will be too.

    • admin May 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      Thank you for your advice, B. I am taking longer than I thought because I’m trying to get the words right. I’m getting close to being as satisfied as I can be with the book. We’ll see what the near future holds.

      Thank you for your support of Dakota & Svetlana. I hope you’ll pick up THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT when it comes out.

      Sincerely,

      Chris Orcutt

  2. Bruce May 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Keeping to your interests is a great motivator, but I’d be particulary fascinated to see the result of a series of books done in deliberately different styles. Whether that aligns with your plans, I couldn’t say.

    On polishing, I suspect that even major rewrites can reach a point of diminishing returns. Perhaps I’m using polishing in an over-broad sense, but that’s what I meant.

    While I remember, congratulations on regaining control of your blog and your search results.

  3. admin May 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Bruce. To answer your question, I really don’t have a specific sub-genre of Western in mind; the Western elements in the novel are more general in nature, but suffice it to say that I reference or pay homage to the classics: Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper (High Noon), etc.

    I do plan on writing subsequent Dakota books based in my interests because otherwise I’d have no reason to write them. There are already a million of these things out there, and I don’t care to say what’s already been said (or at least say it in the same way).

    You’re probably right about the purpose of editors and deadlines in traditional book publishing, but I have to tell you that in my case, I’m really not at the polishing stage yet. I consider polishing to be things like word choice, commas and dialogue attribution—the kinds of edits that come when the main storyline is set. Having been a newspaper reporter years ago, and having had to report to an editor, I know what it is to meet deadlines, and I think I’m holding myself to a higher standard than they ever did me. All I’ll say is that I’m doing my level best to balance publishing a high-quality product with turning it out as soon as possible.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s nice to know that after taking hours to write these entries, at least a few readers are reading them.

    —Chris Orcutt

  4. Bruce May 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I’m certainly intrigued by that particular combination you describe. Which specific genre of Western do you have in mind?

    I suspect that if you were to plan to write subsequent Dakota books in a succession of styles chosen from your own interests, I’d find the series to be fascinating reading.

    I do wonder whether the purpose of editors and manuscript deadlines in the world of traditional book publishing exists in order to limit the all-too-common polishing instinct of writers.