A Short Documentary on Why I Write in Pencil

Back in February, my documentary filmmaker friend Jason Scott created a short documentary about me any my use of pencils for writing first drafts. The doc came out last month, but I realize now that it got buried on my “About” page, so many of you probably haven’t seen it.

Anyway, it’s about 3 minutes long, and if nothing else it proves that Jason can film anything—even a guy writing in pencil and talking about them—and it’s going to be interesting. I hope you enjoy it.

 

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One Writer’s “Vacation” in a Psychiatric Hospital

Last Monday, March 17, I said that I was going on a little “vacation” because I had exhausted myself while finishing the novel. The novel had exhausted me, but contrary to what I and others might have suggested, I did not go to a cabin in the woods, nor to a remote, sun-dappled island.

The truth is, I have been in a psychiatric hospital for the past week.

It's amazing how quickly you become used to having this on your wrist all the time.

It’s amazing how quickly you become used to having this on your wrist all the time.

I have had bipolar disorder (manic depression) for over 25 years, and have been diagnosed with the disease for about twenty. For the past two months I had been experiencing what’s known as “ultra-ultra-rapid-cycling”—extreme swings in mood from low to high that include sobbing, irritability, impulsivity, anger, laughter, etc., with changes in mood coming sometimes within time spans as short as an hour.

These mood swings are triggered and/or exacerbated by periods of intense stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, or, in my case, all of the above, coupled with working to exhaustion on making my new novel as perfect as I could make it.

The hospital I went to lured me in with photos of a finely-appointed parlor, fireplaces, swimming pools and walking trails; but once I got there, I discovered that those amenities were for the celebrity-centric detox program, not the “Acute Care Unit” with its 24-hour lockdown, which is where I was put.

For a week, I was given new medication and observed around-the-clock by psychiatrists and nurses. My only communication with the outside world was via a pair of monitored telephones in the hallways; I had no access to the internet or any electronic devices.

On the plus side, I collected some great material for a future book. I learned a lot about myself and came to respect my fellow patients for their bravery and support. We watched The Shawshank Redemption (“Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’”), plotted coups involving TV usage, played chess and Scrabble, strolled the euphemistically-named “deck” (an Alcatraz-like exercise yard in miniature), ate meals together, debated the merits of various medications, took side bets on minutiae including when the kitchen would open, gave each other nicknames (like “Green Lantern,” for a guy who wore only a Green Lantern hoodie) and shared our experiences in group discussions.

A typical room in the psychiatric hospital where I stayed—albeit a little bit more nicely furnished.

A typical room in the psychiatric hospital where I stayed—albeit a little bit more nicely furnished.

The photo shown is of a typical hospital room. Alexas described the hospital in general as “a Travelodge with nurses, full breakfast, group meetings and 15-minute bed checks.” The rooms, as well as the entire hospital, are designed to be low-stimulus, low-stress. Miraculously, however, I did manage to get a little writing done at the desk in my room.

While I was in the hospital, I debated whether or not to tell everyone the truth about where I’ve been and why it’s taking me a little longer than I’d hoped to release One Hundred Miles from Manhattan. And then while inside I met a remarkable young woman (she’d just been diagnosed bipolar; she had been rapid-cycling; and she was mature, talented and intelligent beyond her years). It was she who convinced me to “lay it out there, Chris.” She said I should do whatever I can to reduce the stigma. So, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Thumbnail of the cover of One Hundred Miles from Manhattan (cover by Elisabeth Pinio).

Thumbnail of the cover of One Hundred Miles from Manhattan (cover by Elisabeth Pinio).

However, my doctors’ orders include sleeping, eating better, and not driving myself as hard in my work. So, please be patient with me as I work (gently) to release the new novel. I just want all of you to understand why it might take me a little longer than I originally promised. The hospital stay helped, but I am by no means “cured,” and I need to learn to take things easier.

Thank you for your continued support.

—Chris

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Long Walk Brings Writing Epiphany

Today, for the first time in weeks, I took a walk.

A long walk.

I put on my coat and my Boston Red Sox cap, and I walked a quiet road north of where I live. I passed a pheasant farm, which, if you don’t know Millbrook, probably sounds ridiculous. But trust me—around this rarefied countryside, pheasant farms are de rigueurwalking_in_the_mist.sized I passed a large meadow that my wife and I refer to as Darcy Meadow—named after Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, because on summer mornings there is often a romantic haze hanging over it like in the climactic scene in the 2005 movie. And I passed what we call the Christmas in Connecticut house. We call it this because the place looks exactly like the house in the classic film—especially when there’s snow on the ground.

I passed these things and kept walking.

As I continued to walk, sucking in the cold, fresh air, I could feel the fog clearing out of my head. My heart beat faster. Blood surged through my veins again.

All through the holidays, I had kept myself chained to my desk, attending to a number of business-related matters: doing a radio interview, updating this website and my Twitter page, being active on Facebook, writing some speeches, and interacting with fans of my books and readers of this blog.

In addition, for the past two weeks, I was dealing with a crisis in my personal life that put me on an emotional roller-coaster and caused me to lose sleep, weight and peace of mind.

But here’s the thing: Through it all—no matter what—I wrote.

Every day.

moleskinenotebookIn one form or another, and with varying levels of output, I have written every day for 25 years. Some days it’s been only a sentence or two in my pocket notebook; many days, a few pages in my journal; and on one exceptional day (during a manic cycle), I cranked out 8,602 words towards the second Dakota novel. (I’m sure of this number because, for a long time, like a lot of writers I kept track of my daily word output.)

I’ve written through a horrible tooth abscess, mononucleosis, and paralyzing depression. I’ve written through the death of my beloved grandfather, and I even wrote on the morning of my wedding (in my journal, briefly, about my bride-to-be).

I was pondering all of this—how writing has seen me through the best and the worst times of my life—when I reached the end of my walk. I was miles down a dirt road, Woodstock Lane. Ahead, a flock of wild turkeys walked out of the woods and crossed the road.

I thought about a difficult email that I’d had to write before I left on my walk, and how until I wrote it, I was uncertain how I felt.

And then, I had an epiphany. We writers live for these, and we always write them down. I took out my notebook and wrote,

If you are truly a writer, then writing is how you process the world, and you can’t be certain what you think or feel about something until you write about it.

 

I stood in the leaves on the edge of the woods and wrote many of the thoughts that appear in this blog entry. A Range Rover crept by, and in my periphery I saw the driver staring at me. I ignored him. We writers are used to this. We’re used to whipping out our notebooks at inopportune times, or in less-than-ideal places. Just yesterday, in the supermarket, I saw an attractive young mother with toddlers, and the scene reminded me of something, and I stopped in the Bakery section, planted my notebook on some boxes of pies, and wrote about it.

At that point, finished with my thought, I put my notebook away and headed back down the road. The wild turkeys were long gone. It was getting late in the day, and the woods were growing dark.

No matter what vicissitudes life has brought me, writing has always been there. And when I’ve had problems, questions, or crises, even if I haven’t written about them specifically, the very act of writing—writing anything—has brought me answers.

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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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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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My Second Office

Writing full-time is a lonely enterprise.

Especially in the winter, and especially if you live in the boondocks, have only one car, and the closest semblance of civilization is a mile away.

I used to be content working alone from home all day long, but in the past year the silence has become oppressive. My only company where I live are the woodpeckers that gather out at the suet feeder. Unfortunately they’re not very good conversationalists.

Which is why, in recent months, I’ve been hiking into the Millbrook Diner every day.

Often before I even get inside, Kenny, Randi or Alex sees me coming from across the street, pours me a cup of coffee, and places it with the crossword puzzle at my regular seat. A small act that, more than anything, makes this writer feel a lot less lonely.

I always exchange hellos with Thanasi—the gracious owner—and sometimes I visit with other regulars—people whom I know only by first name, and with whom I interact only at the diner. Regulars like Bill, who, at close to 80 years old, walks five miles with his wife every day. Or Wayne, a fascinating, semi-retired man who flies planes and trains horses. Or Helen, an erudite Greek woman with a thousand stories to tell.

The Millbrook Diner. Best coffee in the county.

The Millbrook Diner. Best coffee in the county.

I like to read in the diner, but mostly I drink a lot of coffee there, and I write. (Popular definition of a writer: “a device that converts caffeine into words.”)

Over the years I’ve written and edited thousands of words in the Millbrook Diner. Stories. Journal entries. Executive speeches. Video scripts. Plays. And the Dakota novels (see ads to right). Most recently was a 10-minute play for an upcoming play festival.

Whatever I’ve been writing, I’ve found the mild noise of the diner to be creatively stimulating. Also, the familiarity of the people and the surroundings gives me a sense of community, of connection, that I need so I don’t feel so isolated.

Who would have thought that a diner could do all that?

The Millbrook Diner is my second office, and I thank Thanasi, his wife, and his staff for always making me feel so welcome.

—Chris

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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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Interview with UK Author Sensation Rachel Abbott

Earlier this summer, fellow author and friend Rachel Abbott graciously interviewed me for her blog (you can read that interview here, by the way), and I am pleased to return the favor. Rachel’s detective/suspense/thriller novel ONLY THE INNOCENT has been an Amazon UK sensation, reaching #1 in the Kindle Store (Paid), as well as #1 in several other categories.

In this interview she talks about writing, living in Italy, the nature of internet celebrity, and much more. If you’re in the mood for a suspense/thriller, you should definitely pick up ONLY THE INNOCENT. Rachel is working on her second novel now.

* * *

ONLY THE INNOCENT has been ranked #1 in several categories on Amazon UK: #1 Kindle Store (Paid), #1 British Detective, #1 Suspense, and #1 Thriller. The novel obviously has great crossover appeal between genres. What about the novel is making readers respond so positively?

I think there is a level of intrigue that has compelled readers to find out the answers to all the questions. ONLY THE INNOCENT is not so much a book about WHO committed the murder, it’s far more about WHY and to some extent, HOW. It also seems to appeal to people on different levels: some are interested in the whole concept of the detective solving the crime, others are more interested in what would drive a woman to commit cold-blooded murder. So I believe it keeps people intrigued to the end.

 

Although ONLY THE INNOCENT has been profoundly successful on Amazon UK and has been rising up the Amazon US charts, you and the novel are somewhat less well known in the States. What would you like to say to American readers of mysteries, suspense and thrillers to encourage them to buy and read your novel?

I initially focused most of my marketing on the UK audience primarily because I am from the UK, and had quite a following there. But although ONLY THE INNOCENT is set in the England, there are parts of the book set in Venice and Positano and the protagonist does live in a very glamorous world. So I believe that the setting should appeal to people everywhere. In terms of the story, the issues faced by the main characters are universal. There is nothing that defines them as British, and although the policeman is – of necessity – English, the story is driven by mystery and suspense, rather than by a police investigation. There have been a number of reviews already in the US, and to date all of them have happily been favorable.

 

You’ve had over 100 5-star reviews of the novel from Amazon readers, but surely 1–2 must stand out as favorites. What are some of your favorite customer comments about the book?

I particularly like this review, because it covers quite a few aspects of the book :

Rachel Abbott’s rollercoaster debut is astounding and has bestseller written all over it. She explores some dark, dark places in the human psyche that will make you think twice about outer kindness and charity. The Devil’s in the detail but who is The Devil? Gripping from start to finish, the pages almost turned themselves as I enjoyed the fast-paced journey to the final denouement.

I also liked this review, which came early on, from the Kindle Book Review. This is just a brief extract :

A Stunningly Complex Debut Novel

Rachel Abbott has proved with this debut that she is a cracking writer. The book is a complex layered web, every chapter adding more and more layers of intrigue that pull you in further.

But perhaps the one that made me smile most was :

I nearly burned the dinner twice because I couldn’t put this book down.

 

Are you an avid reader of books in these genres (mysteries, suspense and thrillers), and is that why you were inspired to write one of your own, or did you write ONLY THE INNOCENT for other reasons?

I am an avid reader of various genres, but I suspect I read more thrillers than anything else, partly because my husband likes them too, so I have always tended to buy books that we can share. But in this case, I’d had an idea in my head for a very long time and never had the time to sit down and write it. I wanted to think up a scenario in which a woman – a perfectly normal, sane woman – would have no other option than to commit a cold-blooded murder. I didn’t want a psychopathic killer – I wanted a normal person, and that was my inspiration.

 

You were invited by Amazon KDP to the London Book fair to discuss your success with ONLY THE INNOCENT. What did you learn about publishing and yourself from the experience?

I was really excited when KDP asked me to come to the book fair, and the one thing that I learned was that I really want to be in this industry – not just as a one-off author of a book, but because I want to be a writer. I am very clear in my own mind that self-publishing has been really good to me, but in no way does that mean for a minute that I believe traditional publishing is dead. I loved seeing a pile of my books, actually printed (by KDP) for me to sign, and I do love the idea of walking into a bookstore and seeing them all there. But self-publishing has some real positives too, and I realized at the end of the book fair that I won’t rule out either option. One thing that is very clear, though, is that marketing your book to success has to be partially down to luck. If I had launched ONLY THE INNOCENT at the same time as the 50 Shades series, it would have been impossible to get to the #1 spot!

 

Your #1 success with ONLY THE INNOCENT on Amazon UK has made you something of a celebrity in the Indie Author community. How has your writing life changed as a result of this celebrity?

When ONLY THE INNOCENT was successful, I wanted to share the things I had learned with other indie authors. I originally launched the book with low expectations of sales. I would have been happy, to be honest, with a thousand copies sold. That was my goal. But clearly I was very lucky, and I must have done a few things right – so for quite some time I spent most of my days blogging about what I did, and sharing things with other authors.

But the biggest change by far came when I found myself an agent. I have Kerry Wilkinson – another successful indie author (although he now has a publisher) – to thank for this. He introduced me to my agent, and she has changed the way that I work completely. She edited ONLY THE INNOCENT – something that I hadn’t thought of doing, but should have – and has guided my writing, giving tirelessly of her time. So the so-called celebrity status had a tremendous impact, and has made me even keener to improve my writing and help other indies.

 

You live and write in Le Marche, Italy (Central Italy). How has being a writer in Italy influenced your writing and how you work?

Living in Italy is a joy, and I can write here practically without distraction. I am able to write full time – which I know makes me one of the few very lucky ones – and in an atmosphere of total peace and quiet.

But living in Italy also means that during the summer months it is extremely hot – this summer in particular has been relentless and we have had no rain for over three months. It is quite difficult to work when your arms are sticking to the desk! We don’t have air conditioning, because in a normal summer it’s hardly necessary – but I might think about that for next year! We also have a lot of visitors from May to September – friends and family looking to escape the very wet summer in the UK. We love having guests, but they have all had to accept that I hide myself away for a large part of each day. The temptation of a few hours by the pool in the afternoon, though, sometimes gets the better of me.

So for most of the year I can be 100% focused, but for the summer months it becomes quite difficult – particularly if everybody else is drinking a nice chilled glass of white wine with lunch and have feel I have to stick to water!

 

Who are your writing idols—those writers whose work inspires you to be the best writer you can be?

I’m not sure that I have any writing idols. If I have to choose one, it would be Daphne du Maurier. REBECCA is my favourite book of all time. What I love about it is that it is a mystery, but it’s all about relationships. It’s not a story that is led by a detective – it is led by the protagonists. ONLY THE INNOCENT had to have a detective in the story because a murder is committed in the first chapter. But I definitely wanted to feel that the story was all about the victim and the perpetrator, and was not a novel about a policeman.

There are writers whose books I always enjoy – and Harlan Coben would be right up there. What I love about his books is the complexity of the plot – and I am referring to the one-off titles rather than the Myron Bolitar series, which I enjoy for entirely different reasons. It’s this level of intricacy that I strive for.

A considerable number of books that fit into the thriller genre focus almost entirely on the investigation and the character of the policeman rather than the personality of the victims, but with the Harlan Coben books, the focus is on the people to whom the events are happening, rather than on the people solving the crime. So between Daphne du Maurier and Harlan Coben – a strange mix, you might say – they have shaped the way I think of a story.

 

You are something of a social media maven as well, tirelessly promoting ONLY THE INNOCENT on Facebook and Twitter. How has social media helped you as a writer, and how has it been a hindrance?

When I launched ONLY THE INNOCENT I had just nine followers on Twitter. I had a Facebook account, but I rarely used it. I worked hard to build a following – particularly on Twitter, although I am working harder on Facebook now by engaging people in conversation a little more.

I don’t think that social media has been a hindrance at all. I have used some of the tools available to make my life a little easier, because for months I was doing all the updating and searching for new followers manually. I now have two Twitter accounts, primarily because most of my followers on the first account were other indie authors. That is no problem at all, and I’m delighted to chat to them. But the things that interest them are different to the articles and reviews that interest readers – so I now maintain two accounts. The one for readers is where I post reviews – not just of ONLY THE INNOCENT – hardly ever, in fact – but reviews of other books they may find interesting, retweets from other authors, etc.

I’ve made some really good friends via Twitter – particularly in the indie author area. In general, they are a really supportive bunch of people, although of course you get the odd troll who sees that a book has received a load of good reviews so takes delight in going to the Amazon page and writing a particularly nasty one that shows no evidence of them having read the book. The aim is clearly to damage one book in the hope that it will make theirs more prominent. That, to me, is the only downside of social media. You are laying everything out there for the world to see, and not everybody shows the necessary respect for others.

 

You’re currently working on your second novel. Can you give readers a general idea of what it’s about and what inspired you to write it?

I wanted to explore what goes on under the apparently perfect surface of people’s lives, and how individuals – intentionally or otherwise – can cause harm through obsession, jealousy and delusion.

In my next book, an apparently perfect community is ripped apart by a terrible accident. But it is this accident and the investigation into it that gradually begin to expose circles of deceit that are lying just beneath the surface.

 

Is there any advice that you could give burgeoning Indie Authors, advice that you wish you had received when you were starting out?

Yes! As you know, Chris, I have now had ONLY THE INNOCENT professionally edited. The first version did incredibly well, and I think that’s because many people read like I do – they are driven entirely by the story. But some criticized the first version, and having had an editor pore over it and send me reams and reams of notes for improvement, I understand why.

The editing process was quite hard. I didn’t get back changes which was what I half expected. I got back notes with comments such as – ‘what’s going on in the room?’ or ‘what’s she seeing here?’ or ‘cut this section in half’ – and it really made me think. The story hasn’t changed, but the characters have been fleshed out, and there is more to visualize in a scene. I spent a couple of months rewriting chunks, and then it was edited again by a second person, who made even more suggestions.

It sounds hard, but I really think that if I had done that at the outset, ONLY THE INNOCENT would have been an even bigger success. As it is, it has been re-released in the new version on all platforms, and the reviews on iTunes (UK) and Waterstones – probably the biggest independent bookstore in the UK – are all incredibly positive.

So if I was starting again, I would try whatever I could to find the budget for a professional edit. It has changed the way that I will write going forward, but hopefully not changed the tension and suspense of the story.

 

How can readers buy ONLY THE INNOCENT?

ONLY THE INNOCENT is available in all ereader formats, and can be found by following the links below. For some of the readers, such as Kobo and Sony, it might be necessary to perform a search as the sites default to the country you are searching from.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

iTunes (US)

Rachel Abbott Website.

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