Tag: J. Todd Scott

Tucson Festival of Books 2018: Bright Spots and Broad Stokes

I’ve just returned from the Tucson Festival of Books 2018 and I’m a combination of exhausted and euphoric. What an awesome event!

Tucson Festival of Books


In case you’ve never heard of it, the Tucson Festival of Books is held on The University of Arizona® campus. It celebrates southwestern U.S. books and authors (for the most part, there are many exceptions) with panel discussions, workshops, and book signings. It is a wonderful place to discover new favorite authors, as well as to glean tidbits about the craft of writing. The festival organization and the venue are fantastic. plus it is free to attend. The only down side is that here are so many things to see and do, it is impossible to cover it all.

Bright Spots

A few authors stood out among the over 500 attending.

1. Author J. Todd Scott (a.k.a Todd Scott)

His newest novel, High White Sun, is coming out next week. It is a sequel to The Far Empty (previous review).

J. Todd Scott is currently working as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the DEA, but also manages to find the time to write exceptional novels set in west Texas.

As for his writing process, he mentioned that for his first novel he started out with a love for the raw beauty of his Texas setting, plus the first line of the novel. He didn’t have a plan or outline, but wrote his first draft straight through. In fact, he quoted E. L. Doctorow:

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

It was good to see Todd Scott invited to speak on a panel. Most of the panels featured writers who were hawking their 6th or 12th or even 57th book. He’s already being taken seriously after one novel.

2. British poet and novelist Sophie Hannah

She discussed her newest, Keep Her Safe: A Novel.


Why is a British author at a southwestern book festival? Because Keep Her Safe takes place at a luxury resort in Arizona.

The story came from a real life incident where the hotel receptionist gave her the key to a room that had already been given to someone else. She was tired and disoriented when she entered, so didn’t realize the hotel receptionist’s mistake until the room’s occupant confronted her.  That is creepy enough, but afterwards she began to imagine what if she had seen something that she wasn’t supposed to see. She incorporated that idea into the book.

Sophie Hannah’s writing schedule is the best I’ve ever heard. For her latest novel, she wakes up around 8:30 a.m. Without getting out of bed, her husband brings her tea, a chocolate croissant, and her laptop, which she uses to write for three hours. Then she gets up and starts her day. My jaw has permanently dropped after hearing that.  It is the anti-matter version of my life.

3. Retired Police Captain Isabella Maldonado

Her debut novel is Blood’s Echo (A Veranda Cruz Mystery).


Isabella Maldonado (Judy Jance called her “Bella”) is another up and coming author. In her workshop, Writing Authentic Police Procedurals, Maldonado used examples from her experiences with the police force to illustrate how to write an authentic crime-based novel. Tidbits included that it is illegal for a police detective to talk about his or her case with someone outside the investigation, and that if a police officer is involved in a fatal shooting, he or she is “sidelined” for at least a month while under investigation.  She then suggested ways to circumvent the rules, or at least show you as an author understand them.

She also explained big city police forces often have layers of bureaucracy that are too complex to be portrayed realistically without potential confusion and a huge cast of characters. Again, she suggested ways to condense the bureaucracy while making it seem real.

With her extensive insider knowledge, I think she should write a nonfiction book on this topic.

Broad Strokes

In addition to all the great information about writing, it was also possible to make some generalizations about the readers who made up the audiences at the Tucson Festival of Books.

First of all, baby boomers love mystery, suspense, and crime. Whenever the panels where made up of mystery authors, the audience in the room skewed noticeably to the baby boomer generation. Based on what I heard from those sitting around me, plus the speakers, it seemed like a lot of the readers were initially influenced by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. For example, Craig Johnson referred to an Agatha Christie book in his Longmire novel about a crime on a train. Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write new novels featuring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Where were the younger readers and writers? They showed up for science fiction/speculative fiction/fantasy authors, as well as those who specialized in young adult. The early influences of these choices were less concrete, but I heard numerous references to Harry Potter books (one young author “sorted” her characters by which house they would belong to in Hogwarts), Hunger Games, and to a lesser extent, Game of Thrones.  It was not completely clear whether reading the books made the genres more popular, or the books were popular because the genres are.

In any case, the Tucson Festival of Books has a lot to offer for writer and reader alike. If you love books, you might want to put it on your calendar for March 2019.

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

J. Todd Scott‘s debut novel, The Far Empty, starts out with a bang:

“My father has killed three men.”

With tough, gritty language the narrator describes what happened to the three men his father killed, interlaced with evidence that his father’s three wives all died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances as well. Is the narrator’s father a hardened criminal? No, he’s the local sheriff.

J. Todd Scott’s The Far Empty*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)


The story is told from the points of view of several characters. In the prologue, the first person narrator turns out to be seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross, whose mature voice belies his age. Caleb has seen way too much in his young life.

After the prologue, each chapter is named for the character who narrates it (from the third person point of view.) For example, “Chris” is Deputy Chris Cherry, who responds to the call when a rancher discovers a body on his land. At first Chris thinks it might be an immigrant who died of exposure — a common occurrence  in that area — until he notices that someone tied the arms with zip-ties. Realizing the implications of what he sees, he investigates the murder and unknowingly triggers a violent chain of events.


The setting is the fictional town of Murfee, Texas. It is located in the wide open spaces near Big Bend National Park, a harsh area along the border of Texas and Mexico. People really do die there and law enforcement officers aren’t always whom they seem.

Big-Bend-J. Todd Scott

Public domain photo via Visual hunt

The Author

As mentioned in a recent  book beginnings post, J. Todd Scott visited our writing group last Friday. He told us about his journey to becoming a published author.


Like many of us, he got his start with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Because J. Todd Scott has a job as a DEA agent, he gets up two hours early every weekday morning to write, trying for 600 words per day.  It is working because he has two more novels due out over the next two years.

He mentioned that although the stories of the new novels follow characters from The Far Empty, the next two will be branded as mysteries rather than western crime because they are set in other locations.

A bit of a maverick by modern writing standards, Todd revealed he didn’t share his work with critique groups or beta readers. His agent was the first person to read his first novel. Perhaps that’s why his voice is so strong and clear, because it is not sanded down by the comments of others.


When some members of my writing group said how much they enjoyed The Far Empty, I was excited to get my hands on it.

The author develops powerful and interesting characters. Although it’s a cliché, you will love some of the characters and others you will love to hate. I’ll admit that at first the multiple character narration was a bit disorienting. Who is this person and how do they relate to the others? I gave it a chance, however, and things came into focus.

J. Todd Scott has a unique voice, writing with a combination of English major prose and law enforcement realism. These two ingredients make The Far Empty a novel that will stick with you.

Have you read The Far Empty? What did you think of it?

#BookBeginnings The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

Let’s take a look at The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



The Far Empty* by J. Todd Scott

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I picked up this book because J. Todd Scott is a local author who is coming to visit our writing group next week. The Far Empty has been touted as a “Western crime novel.”

The author is a federal agent who has worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for over twenty years.

Blurb:   When skeletal remains are discovered in a small Texas border town, both seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross and sheriff’s deputy Chris Cherry suspect the young man’s father, Sheriff Ross, is the murderer.

First Sentence:

My father has killed three men.


I think that lets the reader know what to expect right up front.

You can’t really tell from only one sentence, but from what I’ve read so far it appears that each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character.

Don’t you think it sounds like both main characters have a lot to lose if the Sheriff is involved?

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