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To All So-Called Authors: Stop Doing This; You Look Like Idiots

Maybe I shouldn’t be giving away my writing secrets.

Hemingway pretending to edit a manuscript.
Hemingway pretending to edit a manuscript.

Maybe I should be like Ernest Hemingway, who, with the exception of a couple of Paris Review interviews in which he gave cryptic answers to questions about writing craft, was selfish with his knowledge throughout his life and shared very little of it.

But there’s something that I’m seeing over and over and over again in so many novels published today that I have to say something. In both genre and mainstream novels, whether indie- or traditionally-published, I see “very good” or even “great” modern authors making the same mistake. Incredibly, one such book on Amazon has over 1,000 4- and 5-star reviews.

This trend has reached a point where someone has to say something.

And as one writer who knows what he’s doing, I am happy to take on this cause célèbre.

Here’s the deal: When you write a sentence, one of the things you have to decide is which part of the sentence is going to get the most detail or emphasis—the subject, the verb, or the object (the receiver of the action). Each of these units is called a syntactic slot. The subject is the person or thing performing the action. The verb is the action. And the object is the person or thing receiving the action. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t pack all of your syntactic slots. Packing slots creates cluttered, distracting sentences with hazy images that give the reader very little to latch onto.

(Of course the above is highly simplified—explained exactly as I did when I taught writing at Baruch College, City University of New York. I received a Distinguished Teaching Award for my efforts.)

Let me give you an example of a bad sentence—one that violates the above rule of “don’t pack all of your syntactic slots.” Following is the sort of opening sentence often found in poorly written fiction (especiallly poorly written genre novels):

An actual sky-blue 1963 Cadillac convertible. I didn't know there was such a thing when I wrote it down.
An actual 1963 sky-blue Cadillac convertible. I didn’t know there was such a thing when I wrote it down.
When the lone stoplight in Hudsonville, Texas—a dry, dusty West Texas town, population 1,400—turned green, Blake Tanner, Dallas private detective, took a drag on his hand-rolled cigarette, flicked the stub into the wind, glanced at his piercing blue eyes and devil-may-care jet black hair in the rear-view mirror, and slammed his hand-tooled cowboy boot on the accelerator of his rebuilt, sky-blue 1963 Cadillac convertible with the 400hp V8, reveling in the khaki cloud of dust he left behind the car and looking forward to hunting down his quarry, bank robber Hal Driver, somewhere in the next lonely, dusty, desperate town.

Now…obviously I’ve been hyperbolic with my example; most opening sentences (even those of poorly written novels) are not that long or ponderous. But even novels with openings composed of several shorter sentences are often laden down with packed syntactic slots—attempts by authors to pile up the information.

Why, oh why, do writers (actually, more often, authors) do this?

There are several reasons:

1. The author isn’t a very good writer. He read somewhere that good fiction is about detail (which is partly true), so he makes a point of packing every single clause and syntactic slot full of detail.

2. The author is lazy, so she either doesn’t write multiple drafts of her work, or she doesn’t take the time in later drafts to edit out the unnecessary details. She wants to get it “all in there,” but isn’t willing to do the heavy lifting, which is to keep in the story only those details that are truly important. A story isn’t every thing that happens; it’s every important thing that happens.

3. The author doesn’t trust in the reader’s intelligence, probably because he isn’t particularly intelligent himself. He believes that he needs to spell out every single thing for the reader because the reader, in his opinion, is a dip-shit incapable of forming a mental picture of a scene unless provided with ALL of the details. For example, in a recent very highly-rated mystery novel, the author describes the counter at a DMV office as being “chest-high.” We’ve all been to DMV offices, and guess what? The counters at all DMV offices are chest-high.

4. The author doesn’t trust in the reader’s patience. She doesn’t believe that the reader will continue to read beyond the first few sentences or paragraphs, so she puts in every detail that she thinks will hook the reader and make him want to read on. What she doesn’t understand is this: The way to keep readers reading is by withholding information, not by dishing it out. Put another way, don’t take the reader where he wants to go.

What if Fitzgerald hadn’t trusted in readers' patience?
What if Fitzgerald hadn’t trusted in readers’ patience?

Whether you’re a relatively new writer trying to finish your first novel, or you’re a seasoned author putting the finishing touches on your latest work, I hope you’ll take into account what I’ve written here. Nothing makes a potentially good story look more amateurish than packed syntactic slots or cluttered sentences, so no matter what stage you’re at, I strongly recommend you go back to the writing table and address this aspect of your work.

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A Successful Interview with Pam Stack on Authors on the Air

This evening, I did my first-ever LIVE radio interview, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. Host Pam Stack asked me some thought-provoking questions and gave me the opportunity to give detailed answers.

There was also a wonderful, unexpected call-in—my friend and colleague Hillary Leftwich, who praised my new novel, One Hundred Miles from Manhattan, and asked me, “If you could have dinner with only one of the characters in the novel, which one would it be?” It took me a good minute to think of my answer. To hear it, you’ll have to listen to the podcast below. :)

I really enjoyed Pam’s conversational style; after the first 10 minutes, I relaxed and felt as if we were having a conversation in her living room.

Anyway, I think I did a good job on this, my first LIVE radio interview. I hope you enjoy it as well.

New Books Internet Radio with Authors on the Air Books Too on BlogTalkRadio

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ONE HUNDRED MILES FROM MANHATTAN — A Novel by Chris Orcutt — Now Available!

Please forgive the cumbersome title of this piece. I’m still sick and a little delirious, but I don’t want to put off my readers any longer. I also wanted the title of this to be easily noticed by search engines and such.


This is just a short announcement to let you know that, after months of waiting, I’m finally releasing my new novel One Hundred Miles from Manhattan. You can learn more about the novel, including why and how and I wrote it, here.

The novel is available for Kindle, as well as in paperback.

I hope you all enjoy the novel.


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One of the Best Indie Books of 2013—THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND

It’s the Christmas present I didn’t expect.

IndieReader, the trusted and informative web-zine about all things indie publishing, has included my book of short stories, The Man, The Myth, The Legend, on their list of the Best Indie Books of 2013.

(Mine is near the end.)

Back in July, IndieReader (IR) gave the collection a 5-star review and the distinction of being one of their “IndieReader-Approved” titles.

And now, this.

Out of the thousands of indie titles published in 2013, The Man, The Myth, The Legend was voted one of the year’s best. I’m overjoyed.

What makes it even more special is that, like a good Christmas present, I had no idea it was coming.

And the icing? The fact that 9 out of the 10 stories in the collection were submitted to, and rejected by, dozens of literary journals and magazines over the past three years before I decided to publish them on Kindle myself.

Since early 2012, IR has given both of my Dakota Stevens mysteries 5-star reviews as well—a fact that I posted about earlier this year. I’m grateful to them for their support of my work, but I’m also grateful to them for the work they’re doing on behalf of all indie authors.


Seriously, it’s an excellent site of curated ebook & indie titles.


By identifying and promoting the best indie work out there, IR is doing a marvelous job of dispelling the myth that indie writing and ebooks in general are junk.

As a writer who spent many years in the gauntlet of traditional publishing, trying to find a home for his books, I am glad to now have this opportunity to reach readers through epublishing.

As I’ve said before, I knew that if I could just get my books into the hands of actual readers (not jaded publishing professionals)—I knew that readers would enjoy them. And they have.

Thank you IndieReader, and all readers of indie-published books, for your support. I hope you all have a great 2014.

You can buy your Kindle copy of The Man, The Myth, The Legend at Amazon.

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Chris Orcutt & Dakota Stevens Hit the Airwaves

“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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Storytime: Chris Orcutt Reads “The Magnificent Murphy,” His Homage to The Great Gatsby

THE_GREAT_GATSBYRecently I did a radio interview with Stephen Campbell, the terrific host of “Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem” on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. The interview went very well, and it is slated to be available as a podcast sometime in the next few weeks. I will of course post an update about the interview the moment it becomes available.

The reason I mention this interview is that it got me thinking about how all storytelling was originally done orally. I also had an excellent microphone my friend loaned me just sitting around, and I thought about my new short story collection, The Man, The Myth, The Legend, and how some people might enjoy having one of the stories from it read to them.

One of the problems with the “Look Inside This Book” feature for Amazon Kindle books is that we authors cannot offer readers more than a few pages of a book as a free sample. I really wish they’d allow us to give readers more—especially in the case of my story collection, since readers can’t get a very clear idea as to what the book is about on the basis of half of one short story.

I thought about simply posting another story from the book on this website, as a means of giving you more of a sample, but then I thought about reading the story to you.

Read aloud, the 5,000-word story is about a half-hour in length. I recorded it on my iMac, using Garageband software, and since I know nothing about audio production, and since I am not a professional voice artist  (like a friend of mine, Jill Cassidy), there are some small glitches in the recording and occasional hitches in my voice.

But the story itself is pretty damn good, and if you have half an hour to sit back and have a story read to you, maybe you’ll think so, too.

If this works out, I might record an excerpt from the current Dakota Stevens work in progress. We’ll see. For now, I hope you enjoy “The Magnificent Murphy”—my homage to one of my favorite novels, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.


1. Soon after I posted this audio story, The Man, The Myth, The Legend was voted by IndieReader as one of the Best Indie Books of 2013.
2. If you are someone who prefers to read stories before listening to audio versions of them, I strongly suggest that you not play this. Buy the book first—about the cost of a Starbucks latte—and listen to my reading of the story later.


“The Magnificent Murphy” by Chris Orcutt—read by the author:




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Everything That’s Wrong With Ebooks

815KyITHLdL._SL1500_So I was browsing Kindle books on Amazon earlier today and came upon one that thoroughly pissed me off.

Truly, this book represents everything that’s wrong with ebooks.

In the content, advertising and book cover, the author details how a writer can write a book a week, and how turning out such a quantity of “writing” is the key to making a lot of money on Kindle.

Let’s talk about this, shall we?

Yes, you can get rich writing a book a week—when most of your “books” are 50 or fewer Kindle pages, and when you’re writing books about how to make money writing books for Kindle.

Not so easy is writing a real book a week—say a novel. I’d like to see Foster live up to his advertised maxim that the quantity and the quality have to be there, if he were trying to write a novel a week.

I’ve read a number of these ebooks about “getting rich writing books for Kindle,” and as a lifelong writer who has earned a living as a journalist, technical writer, scriptwriter and speechwriter (in addition to novelist), I find their common assertion that there’s nothing to this, that anyone can do it, not only insulting but also dishonest.

Writing is like any other specialized skill: It takes years and thousands of hours of study and practice to do it well. Just as I wouldn’t expect that I could go into a dentist’s office tomorrow and begin filling teeth, no one should expect that they can sit down and dash off an ebook in a week that will make them a lot of money.

The main problem I have with Foster’s “book,” as well as all of the others that advocate writing a quantity of work for Kindle, is that they promote a writing-as-lottery mentality. They promote the idea that a person can just churn out a “book,” and that the possibility exists that they’ll make tens of thousands, or millions, of dollars from the book with little effort.

This writing-as-lottery mentality is bad for Kindle and indie-published books in general because it lowers the overall quality of the work out there, and it reinforces the idea among readers and literary opinion-makers that ebooks (especially indie titles) are junk. Well, we writers who have worked long and hard at our craft, and who strive to give readers excellent quality work for their money, resent this.

We resent ebooks like Foster’s, as well as those that advertise that it’s easy to amp-up sales of your current books with a few simple changes to your book listings on Amazon. I have read probably a dozen of these titles, each time convincing myself that this one is different, that this one contains the keys to the kingdom. Guess what? NONE of them do. These authors are simply getting rich on our desire to sell more of our work, and any of the “fixes” that they suggest, if they help sales at all, are merely temporary.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.” Don’t allow your work to become part of the glut of mediocre ebooks on Amazon; have something to say, a story to tell, and put your absolute best work out there—every time. You might not rake in the money as Foster and his ilk do, but you can take pride in the idea that you are only publishing good work, and that if you’re suddenly taken from this earth tomorrow, you at least will have left something of substance, of yourself, behind.

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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:

The Rich Are Different (Dakota Stevens Mystery #2):

A Real Piece of Work (Dakota Stevens Mystery #1):


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MML_cover_500x800After several months of getting the words right, working with my cover designer and ebook formatter, and ensuring that the book I ask readers to buy into is the absolute best  I can make it, I’m finally ready to publish my new story collection, The Man, The Myth, The Legend (MML).

Over the past three years, I wrote 9 of the 10 stories in the collection, along with over a dozen others that might appear in a future collection. The ten stories all center on very different men, ranging from an African big-game hunter to a Civil War general to a modern-day corporate speechwriter.

In my last post, I gave readers a preview into the collection, so I won’t repeat myself here. Here I’ll just tell you where you can buy the book:

For Amazon Kindle: click here

NOTE: If you’re a reader who likes to know details about a book before reading it, you can check out the web page I created for The Man, The Myth, The Legend. On this Q&A page, I divulge more summary information about some of the stories, and I answer questions about the book’s title, themes, and ideas behind the stories.

For a detailed, raving review of the story collection, check out this 5-star review by IndieReader.

Finally, if you buy MML, read it, and enjoy it, I would be eternally grateful if you posted a positive review on Amazon.

I sincerely hope you enjoy these stories. I wrote them to be entertaining and compelling, but also thoughtful and well-written. Thank you.


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My new short story collection, The Man, The Myth, The Legend, will be released in less than a week, but I wanted to give readers a sneak preview of the collection’s content, hopefully piquing people’s interest in the book before it appears.

A collection of entertaining and unique stories about 10 men, The Man, The Myth, The Legend explores the idea that while men may come from very different walks of life, at root they are more alike than they seem, grappling with the same issues and facing the same dilemmas: love, lust, adultery, greed, pride, ambition, revenge, death, and a desire for their lives to mean something.
From the emotionally poignant to the outrageously humorous, these stories dramatize the lives of a wide range of fascinating men:

•  African big-game hunter
•  Writer and bond salesman
•  Homicidal violinist
•  Road sign “engineer”
•  Bootlegger
•  Global grain explorer
•  Corporate speechwriter
•  Professional dogcatcher
•  Fine arts painter
•  Civil War general

In the award-winning story “The Bootlegger,” an ordinary man goes to extraordinary lengths to provide for his family during the Great Depression. In “The Blonde Imperative,” a modern man contends with something all men have since the beginning of time—gut-wrenching temptation. And in “The Lost Dispatches of General George B. McClellan,” an infamous Civil War general reveals the pitiful but hilarious depths of his own self-deception.

Brimming with action-adventure, ample humor, and clean, picturesque writing, The Man, The Myth, The Legend combines the compelling narrative drive of great movies (“What happens next?”) with the gemlike beauty of the short story form.

The collection contains the following stories (in quotes) and additional content:

•  “The Last Great White Hunter”
•  “The Magnificent Murphy”
•  “Sonata for Knife & Violin in D♭ Major; Op. 1 ‘Revenge’”
•  “The Man Behind the Signs”
•  “The Bootlegger”
•  “Seven Whole Grains on a Mission™”
•  “The Blonde Imperative”
•  “The Dogcatcher”
•  “The Charmed Life and Singular Death of Jacob Homer Stanley”
•  Bonus Story (downloadable PDF): “The Lost Dispatches of General George B. McClellan”
•  A Note from the Author
•  About the Author
•  Excerpt from A Real Piece of Work


* The Man, The Myth, The Legend (MML) will be available for Kindle, NOOK, and Kindle- and NOOK-enabled devices on Friday, July 12. Look for links to the books on this site, my Twitter page, and my Facebook page.


** The brilliant MML book cover design is by Elisabeth Pinio. The stupendous photograph on the cover, “315/365 – The 365 Toy Project,” is by David D. (a.k.a. puuikibeach) on Flickr. My heartfelt thanks go out to both of them.


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My new short story collection, THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND, will be released within a month. In the meantime, here are the professions of the 10 very different men featured in the stories:

- African big-game hunter
- Writer and bond salesman
- Road sign “engineer”
- Professional dog finder/dogcatcher
- Global grain explorer
- Painter
- Homicidal violinist
- Civil War general
- Corporate speechwriter
- Bootlegger


Brilliant book cover design by Elisabeth Pinio; stupendous cover photo by David D. (a.k.a. puuikibeach) on Flickr.

At the moment, the book is with my ebook formatter, Lisa DeSpain. I will formally announce its release when she finishes the formatting and conversion process.

Come back soon for sneak peeks into the collection’s content!

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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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