My Radio Interview on “Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem”

Today my interview on the Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem program (part of the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network) aired, and it was a terrific success.

The show is hosted by the friendly, knowledgeable and engaging Stephen Campbell, and as I mentioned a few days ago, I was taken aback by how well-prepared he was (he had read all of my work), and the penetrating questions he asked.

Using the SoundCloud player (below), you can play the interview right here on this webpage, or you can download a copy of the interview and play it on your computer offline.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please leave me your comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Have a great holiday and an even better 2014.

—Chris

 

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Chris Orcutt & Dakota Stevens Hit the Airwaves

Blogtalkradio

“Murders, Mysteries & Mayhem” on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.

Today, I’m in my first-ever radio interview.

I haven’t heard the completed, edited version yet, so you can bet I’m going to tune in to hear how I did.

If you’re interested in hearing about the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, my fiction, and writing in general, tune in today (Thursday, Dec. 19) at 6:30 pm (Eastern time) to the Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem program on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.

The show is hosted by the friendly, knowledgeable and engaging Stephen Campbell.

 

A still of me from a video interview by Jason Scott.

A still of me from a video interview by Jason Scott. I’m talking in it, so I thought it apropos.

 

I hope you’ll tune in, or if you can’t hear it live, that you’ll check it out afterwards, when it becomes available for streaming. Thank you.

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The Adventure of the Sherlock Holmes Aficionado

Thanks to the thousands of readers of my Dakota Stevens mysteries, in the past 18 months I’ve been able to fulfill two lifelong dreams.

The first was going to Paris, spending two solid weeks exploring every inch of that gorgeous city, and walking in the footsteps of my literary idols—including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Flaubert and Maupassant. (You can read about that trip here.)

The second, which I fulfilled only two months ago, was driving through all of England and Scotland, seeing the castles of my ancestors in the Scottish Highlands, and visiting the iconic locations associated with my favorite works of English literature: the Chatsworth estate (the basis for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice), Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of Shakespeare), and 221B Baker Street in London.

 

In front of the ruins of one of my family's ancestral castles in Scotland.

In front of the ruins of one of my family’s ancestral castles in Scotland. 

A famous vista at Chatsworth.

A famous vista at Chatsworth. 

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The River Avon. Photo © by Chris Orcutt.

In front of Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In front of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The plaque designating 221B Baker Street in London.

The plaque designating 221B Baker Street in London.

 

This last location, of course, is the residence of the most famous detective ever—Sherlock Holmes. A detective so famous that some people don’t realize that he and his partner, Dr. John Watson, were entirely fictional—the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle, a medical doctor himself.

From the time I was 10 years old, well into my late teens, I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. I read all 56 short stories and four novels multiple times. I collected Sherlock Holmes encyclopedias and books about Victorian London. I read biographies of Doyle. I read textbooks about criminalistics and forensic science (this was many years before the CSI TV shows). And I went to college to study forensic science, with the original intent of graduating and working at the FBI crime lab.

 

One of the original illustrations from a Sherlock Holmes story.

One of the original illustrations from a Sherlock Holmes story.

 

My plan to get a degree in forensics and work for the FBI lasted two semesters. Through one of my courses—Criminalistics and Crime Scene Investigation—I met a forensic scientist from the state crime laboratory and shadowed him. I visited his lab, interned for a few hours a week, and accompanied him when he testified in court. Doing these things, I began to realize that I wasn’t cut out for the largely tedious work involved in forensic testing, nor would I enjoy being grilled on the witness stand by needling lawyers second-guessing every test I performed.

By then I knew that I didn’t want to become a forensic scientist, and I had decided that the sciences were boring; ultimately the answers (or at least some of them) were in the back of the book. Besides, I had discovered that I was more interested in questions than answers, and I enjoyed literature and storytelling too much to give it up for what I perceived would be a humdrum life of science. So I changed my major to philosophy, expanded my reading of the classics, and began doing seriously something that I had done since I was 11 years old—writing stories.

But it all went back to Sherlock Holmes. Even though I didn’t write a mystery of my own for many years, the richness of the Holmes character, and the verisimilitude of his world (as described by Watson) had made a deep impression on me. I knew that whatever the subject or genre, my goal was to write stories as entertaining and compelling as Doyle’s, with characters that were equally strong and larger-than-life.

As I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, when I was creating the Dakota Stevens series, Sherlock Holmes and Watson couldn’t help but be literary touchstones for me. I wanted a Holmes–Watson dynamic, but I wanted such a duo to reflect modern sensibilities, and I knew that I wanted the counterpoint, the yin and yang, of having my “Watson” be a woman. And so I asked myself, “What would the dynamic of a modern Holmes and Watson—a man and woman detective team—look like?”

And that’s where Dakota Stevens and his “Watson”—the brilliant and beautiful Svetlana Krüsh—came from.

I didn’t get a chance to visit 221B Baker Street until the morning of my last day in the UK. Alexas and I had specifically chosen our hotel because it was in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, relatively close to Holmes’s address, and when we exited the hotel early that Sunday morning, we were unsure whether to try and walk there, or take the Underground.

 

The black London cab that whisked me to 221B Baker Street.

The black London cab that whisked me to 221B Baker Street.

 

We were fumbling with the map when I glanced down the sidewalk and saw a cabbie buffing his freshly-washed black cab. One of my other, smaller, dreams was to ride in a London black cab, and so I got the idea of fulfilling two dreams at once. I would take a London black cab to 221B Baker Street.

I asked the cabbie if he was taking passengers yet (it was barely seven-thirty), and when he replied, “Absolutely,” Alexas and I climbed eagerly in.

“To 221B Baker Street, my good man,” I said. “And hurry!”

Even though it was early on a Sunday morning, there was considerable traffic on the streets, and it took a good fifteen minutes to reach 221B. During the ride, the cabbie asked me why I wanted to go there, and I gave him an abridged version of everything you’ve read so far. I also told him some of the history of Sherlock Holmes, and how Doyle had based the character in part on a medical school professor, Dr. Joseph Bell. I mentioned that I was a mystery novelist from the States (“Not famous—yet,” I added), and the cabbie said he would buy my books on Kindle (Dakota Stevens #1 & #2). Finally he dropped us off, and I gave him an extravagant tip. I wanted him to remember me as generous so he’d be more likely to buy my books and tell others about them.

 

221B (left) and a Sherlock Holmes museum/shop (right). Holmes's apartment is on the 2nd floor.

221B (left) and a Sherlock Holmes museum/shop (right). Holmes’s apartment is on the 2nd floor.

 

With the exception of a few construction workers gathering in front of a building a few doors down, Baker Street was empty and quiet. A single door, marked 221B, sat next to a closed Sherlock Holmes collectibles store. I knew from my reading ahead of time that Holmes and Watson’s apartment on the second floor was decorated and staged as though they still lived there and had just stepped out. I also knew that admission to the apartment was ridiculously expensive, and was sure to be a disappointment—what with having to share the experience with a mob of people who were merely going there so they could check one more item off of a “bucket list.” It was unlikely that the true Holmes lovers, the serious aficionados, would be part of any tour group. They’d all know it was a Barnum sideshow.

Besides, the building, with a Victorian façade on it, didn’t fit with the other buildings on the street. Not only were the other buildings of more modern architecture, the building numbers were out of sync. It was clear that 221B used to be farther down the street, but that building had been torn down and rebuilt, so they created a new 221B Baker Street (in Victorian style) and wedged it in a few doors down.

But it wasn’t about the actual, physical address anyway. It’s not as though Holmes and Watson had really lived, and I was seeing the exact building and apartment where they’d resided. No, it was about the idea of 221B Baker Street. It was about what 221B represented.

As I stared up at the windows, the stories came flooding back to me: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (a great TV version here). “The Bruce-Partington Plans.” “The Final Problem.” “The Musgrave Ritual.” “A Scandal in Bohemia.” A Study in Scarlet. The Hound of the Baskervilles.

It was about all of the pleasure these stories had given me since I was a boy, and how Sherlock Holmes had been a constant companion to me through my difficult and awkward teenage years. It was about how these stories had launched me in a certain direction in life, and how they had inspired me to write the best detective novels I possibly could.

 

At last, in front of 221B Baker Street in London.

At last, in front of 221B Baker Street in London.

 

Alexas took some photos of me standing proudly in front of 221B Baker Street, and then we took a few of a young Japanese woman who knew that 221B was famous for something, but famous for what, she had no idea.

So often in life, the moment of actually realizing a goal, fulfilling a dream, is a letdown compared to how we imagine it will be. But not this time. Not for me. Seeing 221B Baker Street—the home of my childhood hero—affected me much more deeply than I thought it would. As I stared at it for the last time, I realized then how much I had dreamed of being there, how important the place was to me. And I told Alexas so, and began to cry.

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Orcutt Books Back on KDP Select

This is just a quick entry to let readers know that my books—The Man, The Myth, The LegendThe Rich Are Different; and A Real Piece of Work—are back on the Amazon Kindle platform exclusively.

For Amazon Prime members, this means that you can “borrow” any of my books for free. (And I get paid for the borrow!)

I offered my books on the Nook platform for a couple of months, but in all that time I had only a handful of sales. Moreover, Barnes & Noble, as far as I can see, does nothing to promote books by indie authors. People can say what they will about Amazon, but the company has done very well by me.

Here are the links to the books:

The Man, The Myth, The Legend:  http://amzn.to/15kyYUG

The Rich Are Different (Dakota Stevens Mystery #2):  http://amzn.to/PH4k0Y

A Real Piece of Work (Dakota Stevens Mystery #1):  http://amzn.to/rvBB4t

 

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Two Ideas to Get You Through (The 1st Draft)

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that I began writing the third installment in the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series last Monday, and that I’ve written about 18,000 words so far.

What you don’t know, because I haven’t spoken about it at all, is what a bitch this first draft has been.

The tension of not knowing exactly where the story is going is killing me.

It’s been a while, you see, since I had to write a Dakota novel from scratch. The last time I sat down and started a first draft was seven years ago.

Seven years.

Obviously, I’ve written first drafts of other work since then—stories, essays and speeches mostly—but nothing compares to the intricacy of a novel.

Which is why I’ve recently taken great solace in two quotes on writing by two masters: E.L. Doctorow and Bernard Malamud.

93007665Doctorow compared writing—particularly writing a novel—to driving at night through fog. “You can only see as far as your headlights,”  he said, “but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Whenever I’ve found myself getting frustrated with not being able to see the story more than a chapter or so ahead, I’ve thought of Doctorow’s quote: “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The second quote, by Bernard Malamud, was directed to writers in general: “Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.”

This is especially apropos to the writing of a first draft—the very definition of uncertainty.

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty is imperative for a writer. Uncertainty about where the story is going. Uncertainty about how it will be received. Uncertainty about finances. Uncertainty of all kinds.

These two ideas—uncertainty, and seeing as far as your headlights—are getting me through the first draft, and they’ll get you through, too.

—Chris

 

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Dakota Novels Get 5 Stars from IndieReader

IndieReader, the popular and informative web-zine about self-published books, reviewed A Real Piece of Work back in February and gave the novel 5 stars.

So when I published The Rich Are Different over the summer, I submitted the novel to them for a possible review. They were swamped at the time, but I followed up with them last week, and today, less than a week later, they published a review of the second book.

Another 5-star review.

Read the review of A Real Piece of Work.

Read the review of The Rich Are Different.

The reviewer of both books, Maya Fleischmann, creates some nice turns of phrase in her reviews. She writes, “Action, lust, danger, style and witty repartee, Orcutt’s A Real Piece of Work is a work of art.” And of The Rich Are Different she writes, “Dakota Stevens is thoroughly likeable and appealing with his rich mix of chivalry and clever mischief.” There are several other examples, but I’ll let you read them for yourself.

Besides promoting the reviews, there is no larger point of this blog entry, except perhaps to acknowledge that like all writers, I want my work to be liked and accepted. Certainly reviews from regular readers mean just as much to me as IndieReader’s, but there is something especially nice about having a professional stamp of approval. They even sent me a “sticker,” shown here.

Thank you for putting up with this rambling, gloating entry. Sometimes, though, you have to stop and savor the small successes, and this is one of them.

 

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Dakota Stevens #3: Starting from Scratch

While writing the first two books in the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series—A Real Piece of Work and The Rich Are Different—I kept notebooks of other plot ideas, titles, scenes, characters and anything else that occurred to me for future installments.

As a result of these notebooks, I had begun two more Dakota novels and created outlines for 3–4 others.

However, when I opened these notebooks recently with the intent of continuing one of the stories I’d started, I didn’t like what I found.

I’d written this material (including the first hundred pages of a Dakota & Svetlana prequel) between 5 and 7 years ago, and I’d matured as a writer since then.

I no longer liked the direction I’d sketched out for the character and the series.

A realization soon followed that made me sick to my stomach:

I needed to dump all of that work and start over.

When you’ve created a series character, starting from scratch is a scary thought. For the first time since I invented Dakota & Svetlana, I won’t have drafts of work to build on. I’ll be facing a blank Page One and all of the paralyzing dread that accompanies it.

But I’m doing it. I’m starting from scratch, mainly because a novel is a hell of a lot of work, and you have to start with a story, a vision, that you really want to tell. It’s the only thing that carries you through.

Ultimately, the task before me now is to figure out what excites me about Dakota & Svetlana, and to ask myself, “What is the Dakota story I would most like to read?”

I know that’s the question I need to be asking because it’s the same one I asked myself before writing the first two novels, and I’m pleased with the results.

Allegedly, J.R.R. Tolkien was partly inspired to write his Lord of the Rings series for this very reason. He thought about the books that he would most like to read, realized they didn’t exist yet, and set out to write them.

He wrote the books he most wanted to read. This is a great lesson for all of us writers.

Over the coming months, I’ll be writing the first draft of Dakota 3. I have no idea what kind of story it will be or where it will take me; all I know is, I want it to be a fresh take on my vision for the series, and I want it to be as well written as I can possibly make it. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

Wish me luck, Dear Reader. I’m going to need it.

 

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Publishing Your Ebook: Don’t Go It Alone

A year ago, when I published A Real Piece of Work, I did it the hard way.

I formatted and converted the book myself.

Although I have some web design experience and am relatively comfortable with HTML and XML, and although the final product turned out great, it took me a solid month of 16-hour days to get the ebook formatting correct.

That’s a month that I wasn’t writing, wasn’t doing anything creative.

I drove myself to exhaustion and lost all of that time. Time I could have used to hone my craft. Time during which I could have written at least 30,000 words.

That’s a third of a novel.

Fortunately I didn’t try to design the book cover myself. Working from a sketch of mine, a graphic designer friend, Elisabeth Pinio, designed a beautiful cover, saving me countless hours and headaches. (Contact me to get in touch with her.)

Fast forward to June of this year, when I was publishing the second novel in the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, The Rich Are Different. Just thinking about all of the work involved made me anxious and irritable.

I did a test-run of formatting the book by myself, but I couldn’t get it to come out right. The software tools had changed, and I had forgotten a number of steps in the process. Meanwhile, I had promised my readers that I would release the book at the end of the month.

Yet, despite all of this, I was reluctant to hand over this crucial part of the process to someone else.

Bottom line: I didn’t trust. I didn’t trust somebody else to handle this task for me. I didn’t trust that somebody else would do as good a job, or that my project would mean as much to them as it did to me.

One night I was up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep with all of the worries I was carrying around, and I found myself going to Google and searching for ebook formatting and converting companies. There were several—too many, in fact—but they all looked too slick, too impersonal. I wanted to work with a person, someone who would allay my fears, address all of my concerns.

And then I happened upon Ebookconverting.com, run by a woman named Lisa Despain. She offered a lot of free information on her blog, and she had a friendly video about the process. My instincts told me that she was the right one for me.

I decided to take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. I contacted her.

Besides communicating via email, she took the time to speak to me on the phone for a good forty minutes. She answered all of my questions, addressed all of my concerns. As for the result, well…it was excellent, and I’ll let you read my testimonial to learn more.

Now, Lisa and Elisabeth are terrific professionals in their fields, and while I highly recommend both of them, you might have other people in mind. That’s fine. Because this piece isn’t about specific vendors; it’s about trusting other people to be a part of publishing your ebook.

Consider the opportunity costs of doing everything yourself. Time spent on formatting and converting your book into ePub and Mobi files is writing time lost. Also, how much is your time worth? Because it’s going to take a lot of time—especially if you’re a newbie.

You’re the writer. Make your focus the writing—producing as great a book as you possibly can. That’s a hard enough job.

To that end, I strongly recommend hiring an editor and/or proofreader for your book. The number one complaint by readers about many indie-published ebooks is that they’re poorly written. If you’re a writer asking people to pay for your work with their time and money, you can’t be dismissive about this.

You want your work to be as well-written and as error-free as possible. Not only because you want every reader to have a great experience, but also because you know that the quality of your work determines your long-term reputation as a writer.

Do you want a reputation for readable and well-written, or convoluted and sloppy? As the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade remarks, “Choose wisely.”

In his book The War of Art, an inspiring look at what it takes to be an artist (especially a writer), Steven Pressfield argues that a pro asks for help and recognizes his or her limitations. Pros hire other pros to handle aspects of their work so they can be freed up to focus on what they do best: the writing.

As writers, by nature we’re independent creatures. Most of us are suspicious of “communities,” which is understandable. But if you want your writing to thrive as an indie-published author, it’s imperative that you interact with other writers and people involved in indie publishing. Reach out to them for help, and be willing to help others who come to you. Promote their books or services to the extent that you feel comfortable.

Finally, help bolster the reputation of indie-published books by turning out a quality product. Hire others or barter services in order to do that.

In other words, when it comes to publishing your ebook, don’t go it alone.

 

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Thanks for the Incredible Year

A little more than a year ago, I published A Real Piece of Work for the Kindle, not for a second anticipating the terrific success the book would have.

In fact, when I published it, my only hope was to sell 1,000 copies, at which time I would release the second novelThe Rich Are Different. I thought it would take a year to sell that many copies. Instead, it took three months.

This has been an incredible year for me, and it’s all been because of you readers. As my way of saying thanks (this is Thanksgiving week, after all), I am making A Real Piece of Work available for FREE for one day only—on Tuesday, November 20. Tell all of your friends.

So, how has this been an incredible year for me?

Well, first, I sold thousands of copies of A Real Piece of Work, not just the 1,000 I hoped for. Thank you for spreading the word about the book and for continuing to publicize it.

The excellent sales made it possible for my wife and me to fulfill a dream I’ve had for over 20 years: to go to Paris. I wrote about the two-week trip at length here.

The reviews of both books have been stellar, with A Real Piece of Work having just reached one hundred 5-star reviews. Besides the praising reviews by you, Dear Reader, there have been raving professional reviews, including ones by IndieReader and The Kindle Book Review. I want to give a special thanks to the two reviewers, Maya Fleischmann and Rachel Abbott: your kind and generous reviews of the novel really helped. Thank you.

There has also been some publicity about me and my work, including newspaper articles and a lengthy interview. Not to mention some fun film footage about my predilection for typewriters by my best friend, documentarian Jason Scott.

It’s been an incredible year all around, and I’m hoping that sales of both novels will be strong through the holidays. If you know anyone traveling who might want a good read, consider suggesting A Real Piece of Work or The Rich Are Different. Great for plane and train trips, and for people stuck away from home.  ;)

I sincerely wish you and yours an enjoyable Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season.

—Chris Orcutt

 

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Gratitude

As a writer, it’s easy to fall into the habit of focusing on what’s missing, on the goals you fail to accomplish, and to take for granted the victories you do have.

In my own case, I’m in the middle of a major victory. My characters of Dakota and Svetlana are making it possible for my wife and me to go to a place I’ve dreamed of for over twenty years. I’ve wanted to go there since I was 19 and read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. The place is Paris.

We leave in one week.

 

 

It was always a question of time and money. When we had flexible jobs that gave us the time, we didn’t have the money for such a trip. When we had the money, we couldn’t get the time off from work (we were too busy earning said money).

Finally, this year, time and money came together. I write full-time, so my schedule is wide-open. Alexas works for a terrific employer—Vassar College—that let her take a full two weeks off. And we have the money—from massive sales of A Real Piece of Work back in February and March. (Thank you, readers!)

 

 

Of course we’ll be seeing all of the major sights (e.g., Notre Dame, the Louvre, Versailles, etc.), but we’re also going to spend a lot of time simply walking the streets and taking in the real Paris. To this end, we’re staying in an apartment in the centrally located Latin Quarter.

But this entry isn’t about the specifics of our trip. It’s about gratitude. My best friend helped me realize this as we drove to Saratoga the other day to play the ponies.

 

 

When I complained about the recent slow sales, the difficulties of finding a new literary agent, and the rejections I’ve received from magazines and literary journals for my short stories, he was quick to remind me that I am one of very few writers who has actually earned significant money from his own writing—enough that my wife and I can go to Paris comfortably for two weeks (not a cheap proposition).

He further pointed out that if I always look at what I don’t get, at the goal I don’t reach, I’ll miss out on the many good things I do get in the present, and the trip to Paris is one of them.

 

 

So is complete freedom of time; I report to no one. So is complete freedom of subject matter; I write whatever I want to write. So are my health and Alexas’s health, my family and friends, and a growing readership.

He was right, and I’m truly grateful for all of it.

 

 

Yes, I hope this will be the year that I get one of my stories into a major magazine or literary journal. Yes, I hope the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series (excuse the branding) will be picked up by a traditional publisher so I can sign copies in bookstores next December. And yes, I hope I’ll return from Paris with enough material for two books and a dozen stories.

But in the meantime, I’m determined to be grateful for things like this trip, and to enjoy every moment of them.

 

 

Thank you again, Dear Reader, for helping to make this trip possible.

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