Interview with Chris Orcutt, author of A Study in Crimson

15 Nov 2018

What can you tell us about your new release, A Study in Crimson?

As a boy who revered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I loved A Study in Scarlet in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meet for the first time. I wanted to write the “origin story” of Dakota Stevens and Svetlana Krüsh, paying homage to Doyle’s meeting of Holmes and Watson. A Study in Crimson is a prequel in the series because it takes place soon after Dakota has left the FBI, and he’s struggling to form his own PI agency. He’s extremely devil-may-care, and readers get to see the witty swagger for which he becomes known in the later books.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I taught myself to read at age three, so I’ve always loved words and stories. As a young boy, Jack London’s stories stirred my imagination, but it wasn’t until I was 13 and reading Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger that it occurred to me that actual people wrote these books. One passage in particular in Goldfinger—where Bond is driving through the Alps in springtime—aroused my literary sensibilities. His description of the alpine countryside was so beautiful that I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life—write novels.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

4. The Odyssey by Homer

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

If my guests could only be living writers, my first guest would be Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain. I’d want to ask him this: “Given that Cold Mountain took you a decade to write, did you ever doubt its greatness? If so, why; and if not, why not?”

If I could have any writer (living or dead), my first guest would be Anton Chekhov. I’d want to ask him two questions: “Is ‘The Lady with the Dog’ at all autobiographical?” And, “Regarding your first play—The Clean-Shaven Secretary with the Pistol—what was the plot?”

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

While I imagine most writers will say it’s the creating of a new character or scene, for me it’s revision. The first draft work on any novel is always the hardest. But for me, revising that first draft over and over and over again is a pleasure: honing a paragraph, finding le mot juste, crafting a gorgeous turn of phrase.

What is a typical day like for you?

Novel-writing over the long term requires routine and consistency. I wake early (often before 5:00 am), write for a couple of hours on one of my typewriters, get ready to go to work, and then write at the Vassar College library or in my home office. I write for 5-6 hours, having lunch at some point, then go to the gym and work out, or, in winter, cross-country ski. I then do errands, go home, cook dinner, watch a program, read in bed, go to sleep, repeat. The books get written by producing a minimum word count every day (for me this is 1000-1500) and by not letting myself get bogged down in editing the story while I’m writing it.

What scene in A Study in Crimson was your favorite to write?

There are two that I particularly enjoyed. The first is when Dakota is flirting with a group of sorority girls. The second is when Dakota is in the woods around Walden Pond, and he steals a guy’s mountain bike. Every time I re-read that mountain bike scene or share it with my wife, I crack myself up.

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

I live by a quote by Gandhi, who said, “We must all become the change we wish to see in the world.” As far as writing goes, my creed is one by Ernest Hemingway: “It is your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read, but as something that happened to himself. That is the true test of writing.” This idea of Hemingway’s is my guiding principle with everything I write.

Chris Orcutt is the author of the new book A Study in Crimson

Connect with Chris

 Author Page

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A Study in Crimson (The Dakota Stevens Mysteries Book 5)

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