About The Man, The Myth, The Legend

MML_cover_500x800One of IndieReader’s Best Books of 2013.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend, Chris Orcutt’s new short story collection, showcases his fertile imagination and writing artistry as applied to the perfect genre for busy readers—short fiction.

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.

However, women readers will enjoy this collection just as much as their male counterparts. Relationships between men and women play an important role in several of the stories, and a few feature a love story. Indeed, one of the themes of the collection is that men only reach their fullest potential when basking in the love of a great woman.

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.

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Excerpt from The Man, The Myth, The Legend

From “The Blonde Imperative”

He sprang up in his chaise, shielding his eyes, and scanned the poolside. No sign of Alice. Seeing the cabana tent still empty, Shelby swam a quick backstroke lap, toweled off and bought two giant frozen margaritas with salt. He put on his shirt and lay down in the shade of the cabana. He opened his laptop and spread out a draft of the speech so it looked as if he’d been working. He sipped the margarita. What if she’d already been out here, gotten bored and left? Between daydreaming, calling his wife and getting spooked by Scripture, he’d taken longer than expected to get out here. For all he knew, Alice was inside seething and would ignore him for the rest of the event.

He happened to be gazing at the waterfall when in his blurred periphery he saw her. At first all that registered was a tall shape with a lot of bare skin. Then his eyes focused on her. She wore a Tiffany blue bikini with white trim. Chin up and shoulders back, her blonde hair made bouffant by a white plastic hair band, Alice looked like a Price Is Right model showcasing a grand prize trip to Bali.God, you shouldn’t have made this woman so beautiful. Why tempt me like this? Screw you, it’s not fair.

She smiled at him and scrunched her shoulders as she passed the lifeguard stand. Stepping under the cabana awning, she plopped a canvas tote on the chaise opposite and reached for a margarita.“Oh, I love you.” She took a sip, closing her eyes and licking her lips. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted one of these. You’ve been working, I see. Get any sun?”

She sat down and studied him. Her legs were crossed and a white Dr. Scholl’s sandal dangled from her foot. Shelby hadn’t noticed the prosaic footwear earlier, for obvious reasons.

“Oh, sure,” she said, the margarita poised in front of her, “you got some color. I must look like snow, don’t I?”

He was about to take her question as an invitation to ogle every last inch of her, but he locked eyes with her instead.

“No, you look perfectly healthy,” he said.

“Oh? Is that your considered professional opinion?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

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For an additional excerpt, check out this full-length reading of another story in the collection, “The Magnificent Murphy.”


What are the contents of The Man, The Myth, The Legend?

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


Where did you come up with the title The Man, The Myth, The Legend?

The mug that started it all.

The mug that started it all.

It was on a coffee mug that my mother had given my father several years ago. I coveted that mug for a long time, until my mother gave me one of my own. Then, in the early spring of 2013 when I was trying to come up with a title for the collection, I realized that all of the stories were about men. I wanted a title that was amusingly grandiose and would convey a sense of “legends in their own minds,” and I remembered that mug.

Are any of the stories in The Man, The Myth, The Legend taken from real life?

Not exactly. With a couple of them, something from real life might have provided the initial kernel of the story—that is, the thing that got me wondering, “What if…?”—but on the whole, the stories are 100% fiction.

Can you tell us where you got the ideas for some of the stories?


The Kashi® “Seven Whole Grains on a Mission™” graphic.

Sure, take “Seven Whole Grains on a Mission™” for example. My wife and Muse, Alexas, and I were in a grocery store cereal aisle, frustrated at the mostly empty section of Kashi® cereals, when I said, “They must be out on one of their grain-finding missions,” and Alexas retorted, “Yeah, to find that elusive eighth grain.” In a rare and wonderful moment of Gestalt, the entire vision of “Seven Whole Grains” came to me: a James Bond-esque Global Grain Explorer who goes all around the world seeking out new grains for Kashi®.

“The Bootlegger” came from tales I had heard about my paternal grandfather—a smart, multitalented, colorful man whom I never knew (he died before I was born). Besides working as a carpenter and as a stonecutter in a quarry, and besides having adventures as a hunter in the Maine woods and cleaning house in bar fights in Portland and Boston, he left behind evidence that he had been a bootlegger during Prohibition. So, the story uses those ideas as a starting point and expands on them in fiction.

Finally, “The Dogcatcher” came from my seeing desperate signs for lost pets (particularly dogs) all over the place, and those signs offering, in some cases, “SUBSTANTIAL” rewards. I got thinking that somebody must be out there finding these lost pooches, so I imagined this guy who makes a living as a professional dogcatcher, and I imagined his voice as being like that of a detective in a 50s noir movie.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend—a collection of short stories—seems a radical departure from your Dakota Stevens Mystery Series. Why not simply continue your detective series instead of coming out with such a different brand of fiction?

Short story master John Cheever.

Short story master John Cheever.

Actually, I’ve been writing short stories far longer than I have the Dakota novels. Dakota Stevens and Svetlana Krüsh only go back as far as 2003–04, but I’ve been writing short stories since I was 12, when I would read them to my friends on the school bus. I’ve had about two dozen stories published in literary journals, and it’s a form of storytelling that I’ve been honing for over 30 years. Many of my favorite writers were primarily short story writers, and I’ve assiduously studied their work: Anton Chekhov, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, Guy de Maupassant, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The reason why I didn’t simply continue the Dakota series is that, like some other writers, I believe that we don’t choose what we’re going to write about, as much as what we’re supposed to write about chooses us. Nine of the 10 stories in the collection were written over a three-year period, from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2013, and it so happens that during this period a bunch of characters other than Dakota and Svetlana grabbed my attention and insisted I write about them. The stories in The Man, The Myth, The Legend (MML) represent only about a third of my short story output during this period, so there might be another collection on the horizon.

Why is one of the stories only available as a downloadable PDF? Why didn’t you include it in the ebook?


General George B. McClellan.

First, the story in question, “The Lost Dispatches of General George B. McClellan,” is included in the print version of The Man, The Myth, The Legend. The reason I couldn’t include it in the ebook is that it contains lots of historical footnotes, and current ebook formatting standards don’t handle footnotes well—if at all.

To remedy this, I considered putting the story in the ebook without the footnotes, but since so much of the humor and drive of the story comes from the conflict between what’s going on in McClellan’s mind (rampant fantasy and paranoia) and what actually happened (historical reality), when I took out the footnotes, the story lay there like a wet dog.

Because the theme of “The Lost Dispatches” dovetailed so nicely into the overall theme of MML—men as legends in their own minds—I didn’t want to release the collection without it, so I created a PDF of the story, which can be read on a reader’s Kindle, iPad, etc., and I put the story on the Orcutt.net Bonus Stories page. The story is included in full in the print edition of the collection.

Incidentally, McClellan’s autobiography—McClellan’s Own Story—is fascinating reading, and I wrote the fictional entries in “The Lost Dispatches” to mimic the content, tone and diction of the autobiography.

Have any of the stories in The Man, The Myth, The Legend been published elsewhere?

Yes. “The Bootlegger” appeared in the 2003 MOTA: Courage anthology and received an Emerging Writers award. The other nine stories in the collection are brand new and have not appeared anywhere else.

Besides the fact that the central characters are all men, what else do the stories have in common?

I’d say that the worlds in all of the stories are a little bit larger than life, slightly hyperbolic in some cases. In MML, whatever world my characters find themselves in—whether the world of corporate speechwriting or fine arts painting—everything is heightened. Something else that most of the stories have in common is that they’re partly about men’s relationships with women, and how we, as men, usually only reach our fullest potential when we’re basking in the love and adoration of a great woman.

What is your favorite story in the collection?

We writers love our stories like parents do their children—equally, but for different reasons.


The African savanna at sunset.

I love “The Last Great White Hunter” because with it I created a kindhearted parody of an obscure genre: African safari big game hunting books. I love “The Magnificent Murphy” because in it I lovingly spoof one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby, telling the story in the pitch-perfect voice of Nick Carraway. I love “The Man Behind the Signs” because it tells the behind-the-scenes story of something we encounter every day but take for granted—road signs. And finally I love “The Lost Dispatches of General George B. McClellan” because of how much the fictional letters and telegrams sound like those in McClellan’s real autobiography (an autobiography that I checked out of West Point, his alma mater, and noticed had never been opened before).

I love all of the stories, but I don’t want to give away too much about the collection, so I’ll stop gushing now.

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* Footnote: 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.