Tag Archives: Rural Fiction

Promo & Giveaway: The Big Empty by Loren C. Steffy


Genre: Western / Rural Fiction / Small Town
Date of Publication: May 25, 2021
Number of Pages: 304 pages 
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When Trace Malloy and Blaine Witherspoon collide on a desolate West Texas highway, their fender bender sets the tone for escalating clashes that will determine the future of the town of Conquistador.
Malloy, a ranch manager and lifelong cowboy, knows that his occupation—and his community—are dying. He wants new- millennium opportunities for his son, even though he himself failed to summon the courage to leave familiar touchstones behind.
Witherspoon, an ambitious, Lexus-driving techie, offers a solution. He moves to Conquistador to build and run a state-of-the-art semiconductor plant that will bring prestige and high-paying technology jobs to revive the town—and advance his own career.
What neither man anticipates is the power the “Big Empty” will wield over their plans. The flat, endless expanse of dusty plain is as much a character in the conflict as are the locals struggling to subsist in this timeworn backwater and the high-tech transplants hell-bent on conquering it. While Malloy grapples with the flaws of his ancestors and his growing ambivalence toward the chip plant, Witherspoon falls prey to construction snafus, corporate backstabbing, and financial fraud. As they each confront personal fears, they find themselves united in the search for their own version of purpose in a uniquely untamable Texas landscape.
“The Big Empty” captures a moment when Big Tech seemingly promised everything. By turns funny and painful, Steffy’s story builds like an accelerating freight train, reaching a fast-paced climax.”
The Epoch Times
“Like the titular land itself, Steffy’s novel is uncompromising in spotlighting the strains that the drive toward material achievement puts on the individual in the face of nature’s whims.”
Southern Review of Books
Stoney Creek Publishing Group (Currently 25% off)




Originally published July, 2021, on the author’s blog

Perhaps I should have used a rocket company instead of a semiconductor manufacturing plant.

I found myself thinking that earlier this month, as all eyes were on West Texas for the launch of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket.

I started writing my novel, The Big Empty, almost 20 years ago, and the idea of a rocket factory in West Texas would have seemed even more over the top than a chip plant. Besides, I knew what chip factories were like. I had toured several of them, and I covered the semiconductor industry.

While my brother is in the private space business, the idea of making the outside company moving into the tiny town of Conquistador an aerospace firm never occurred to me.

At any rate, all this came rushing back to me with the Blue Origin launch, in part because of some excellent reporting by my old paper, the Houston Chronicle. Andrea Leinfelder has a thoroughly reported series on the impact of the private space on small-town Texas. She takes a deep look at both Boca Chica, Space X’s launch site in far south Texas, and Van Horn. The Van Horn piece, in particular, sounds eerily familiar:

This town, like a thousand other rural communities, has seen agriculture diminish and infrastructure deteriorate. Its local improvements often depend on grants. And with Blue Origin’s higher-paid workforce, the town no longer qualifies for citywide grants reserved for low- to moderate-income communities. Residents talk about the tight housing market and problem-plagued water system.

Still, people are excited to see what comes next, with the possibility that Van Horn will become a major launch site for space travelers.

Those were many of the same ideas I tried to capture in The Big Empty. It was what I saw first-hand in the late 1990s when, as I described in my recent guest essay for the Chronicle, I found myself on a sprawling West Texas cattle ranch to cover a tech story.

I’ve always been fascinated with how people live in different environments. When I visit a new place, I like to see what life is like for the residents. I’ve found myself driving through neighborhoods in the interior of Maui and walking through the residential streets of Riyadh (against the “advice” of my government handlers).

Of course, the issues facing small towns in Texas — and across the country — have been going on for decades. But with the Blue Origin launch in Van Horn, I was struck by the old idea of life imitating art (not that I’m ascribing the “art” tag to my book, but you get the point).

In a way, it’s happening again. I’ve been working on a sequel to The Big Empty, which could be described as “a billionaire comes to town.”

Sound familiar?

Loren C. Steffy is the author of five nonfiction books. He is a writer at large for Texas Monthly, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. He has previously worked for news organizations including Bloomberg and the Houston Chronicle, and he is a managing director for 30 Point Strategies, where he leads the 30 Point Press publishing imprint. His is a frequent guest on radio and television programs and is the co-host of the Rational Middle podcast. The Big Empty is his first novel. Steffy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. He lives in Wimberley, Texas, with his wife, three dogs and an ungrateful cat.
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Author Interview & Giveaway: Making It Home by Teddy Jones

By Teddy Jones
Publisher: MidTown Publishing
Pub Date: July 26, 2021
Series: Jackson’s Pond, Texas Series
Stand Alone: YES
Pages: 275
Categories: Family Fiction / Racism / Ku Klux Klan / Texas Women’s Fiction / Rural Fiction
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In this third novel in the Jackson’s Pond, Texas series, fifty-five-year-old Melanie Jackson Banks encounters racism, intolerance, and violence both in her family’s distant past and in current day Jackson’s Pond. She leads family and community efforts to create reconciliation for past wrongs and also to demonstrate strength and defiance in the face of vandalism, cross-burning, domestic violence, threats to Jackson Ranch’s operation, and kidnapping. In the midst of this stormy period, she finds allies in her mother’s long-time companion, Robert Stanley; her mother, Willa Jackson; her daughter Claire Havlicek; and many others.
Praise for Making It Home

“Making It Home could not be a more timely book… We live in an imperfect world, but it is still possible to think, imagine and make things better. The cast of characters in this strong family affirms this through their hope, decency, and tenacity!” —Eleanor Morse, author of Margreete’s Harbor

“Jones’ talent for creating indelible characters endures, as does her way with a compelling plot. … This is a timely page-turner.”  Robin Lippincott, author of Blue Territory: A Meditation on the Life and Art of Joan Mitchell


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Author Interview

Interview with Teddy Jones


What kind of writing do you do?

I write realist fiction, both novels and short stories. I do not confine myself to present day material but have never written about times earlier than the nineteenth century.

Has Texas influenced your writing in any way?

Yes. I respond deeply to places, not only the scenery and typical weather of a spot, but also the sights of life in that place, what’s present and what’s not. I also respond to the language of places and the idiom particular to people in those places. Because I have lived a large portion of my life in Texas, it’s the place (the mixture of the many places that Texas is) that I am drawn to have my characters respond to and reflect.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I strive to create memorable characters, not through detailed description of their appearances, but by putting them in situations that affect them and then showing from their points of view their reactions and actions, dialogue, and silences. Readers’ comments suggest that this depth of character is a quality they appreciate in my writing.

Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer?  How does this affect your writing?

I am fortunate to have writing as my full-time occupation. By that I mean that I have no paid job waiting for my attention. As a result, I either work on an existing project (short story or novel) each day or when I don’t have a defined project underway, I write “bits.” Those bits may be thoughts prompted by reflection on some reading or they might be pieces of conversations overheard, or descriptions of a situation or a character. Those bits end up in notebooks that I keep and return to when I choose a project to begin. I may find something there for the new project. Then I write straight ahead on the chosen project until I’ve told myself the story of that full story. After that comes revision after revision. Being a full-time writer means I have the time to indulge that process. And it means I have no excuse not to.

What was the hardest part of writing Making It Home?

The initial conflict in this story began in the past before the present-day characters were born. Learning of the racial tensions that created that early stain on the family’s history is now reflected in and worsened by present day bigotry and escalating violence that threatens the Jackson family and the town of Jackson’s Pond. I labored because I set myself the challenge of ‘getting it right.” I didn’t want to deal in stereotypes; the characters with the most detestable of behavior had to be real people, not stereotypes. In real life, I want people to be happy and live in harmony. So, for me, dwelling in the lives of characters in conflict is difficult, but necessary to telling the story well. And I had to live there throughout almost this entire novel.

Teddy Jones is the author of three published novels, Halfwide, Jackson’s Pond, Texas, and Well Tended, as well as a collection of short stories, Nowhere Near. Her short fiction received the Gold Medal First Prize in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition in 2015. Jackson’s Pond, Texas was a finalist for the 2014 Willa Award in contemporary fiction from Women Writing the West. Her as yet unpublished novel, Making It Home, was a finalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition in 2017 and A Good Family was named finalist in that contest in 2018.
Although her fiction tends to be set in West Texas, her characters’ lives embody issues not bounded by geography of any particular region. Families and loners; communities in flux; people struggling, others successful; some folks satisfied in solitude and others yearning for connection populate her work. And they all have in common that they are more human than otherwise.
Jones grew up in a small Texas town, Iowa Park. Earlier she worked as a nurse, a nurse educator, a nursing college administrator, and as a nurse practitioner in Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. For the past twenty years, she and her husband have lived in the rural West Texas Panhandle where he farms and she writes.

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Review & Giveaway: Alfie Carter by BJ Mayo

BNR Alfie Carter

BJ Mayo
Published by Skyhorse Publishing
Pages: 288
Published: January 19th, 2021
Categories: Southern Fiction / Rural Fiction / Mystery
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Cover Alfie Carter med res

The seemingly never-ending Cabinda War (1975—) has left multitudes dead in its wake and thousands of children homeless and orphaned.

Jackaleena N’denga, a young Angolan girl, has become the sole survivor of one specifically brutal village massacre carried out by a band of guerrilla boy-soldiers.

Jackaleena’s resilience leads her to an orphanage on the west coast of Africa, known as Benguela by the Sea, where she and other children are taken in and protected. Her brilliant mind and endless questions capture the heart of her mentor, Margaret, who ensures her that her survival thus far—especially being the survivor from her village—must mean she has big things ahead of her. When the opportunity arises, she must find her purpose.

Not without a plan, Jackaleena stows away on a mercy ship that has made its yearly visit to the orphanage and is now preparing to return to America. Her journey takes her across the ocean, into the arms of New York City’s customs officials, and finally into placement in a temporary foster home in Texas.

Enter Alfie Carter—a workaholic, small-town detective who is also battling memories of his past. His life is forever changed when he meets a young African girl looking for her higher purpose.

Purchase: Skyhorse Publishing


Alfie Carter by BJ Mayo is a book that cannot be judged by its cover. Don’t get me wrong, the cover is quite beautiful, as is the heart of the story. But that does not begin to touch the darkness contained within its pages and the resilience of the characters to overcome it. If you were to pick this book up with the intent of reading a fluffy, inspirational novel, you would be rocked to your core.

The premise of the book is very interesting and, to be completely honest, had so much going on that I felt like this story should have been broken up into two, if not three, separate books. When we begin with the stoic Jackaleena breaking down over the brutal attack on a young girl, we know that we are about to hear a horrific story. For anyone who has kept up with the news in Africa, the crimes against humanity, especially women and young girls, is not a secret. Mayo’s ability to write from the perspective of this brave young girl is believable with its seemingly contradicting qualities of awareness and innocence. His treatment of the violence is handled with honesty and as much sensitivity as an author can use to describe such evil.

When we switch gears to follow around the Alfie character, you get to understand why the book is named after him. I imagine that the people in his town, and even his own wife, sometimes think that there’s not much complication to the man. But, thankfully, we the readers are privy to his innermost thoughts and feelings. A quick glance at Mayo’s biography has me thinking that Alfie most likely was not based on himself, but his familiarity with the character has me believe that he knows someone like Alfie in real life. The character is too complex and too visceral to not be based on a real person, even just a little bit.

I think the story could have hit even harder with some good editing, both on the line edit level and the overall shaping of the novel. Certain scenes just ran too long in my opinion, and the synopsis of the book misleads you into thinking that there is more interaction between Alfie and Jackaleena than we actually get to see. To be fair, it sounds like the sequel will definitely provide more of those details, but I was setup to believe that they would be revealed in this book, not the next. Also, with the amount of God and Christianity talk, I think that this book should have been labeled as a Christian novel.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in reading about a place very different from where most of us reside, but who are not squeamish about violence. This book makes you think about the things and the people you might take for granted. I look forward to reading more about these characters. Four stars for an uplifting story of hope and making new beginnings.


author pic Mayo

BJ Mayo was born in an oil field town in Texas. He spent the first few years of his life living in a company field camp twenty-five miles from the closest town. His career in the energy industry took him to various points in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Bangladesh, Australia, and Angola West Africa. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have been married for forty-six years with two grown children. They live on a working farm near San Angelo, Texas.
Visit BJ Mayo at his website: https://bjmayo.com/


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Blitz: River, Sing Out by James Wade


Categories: Contemporary / Literary Fiction
Rural Fiction / Crime Fiction / Coming-of-Age
Date of Publication: June 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 315 pages
“And through these ages untold, the river did act as the lifeblood of all those things alongside it.”

Jonah Hargrove is celebrating his thirteenth birthday by avoiding his abusive father, when a girl named River stumbles into his yard, injured and alone. The teenager has stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of meth from her murderous, drug-dealing boyfriend, but lost it somewhere in the Neches River bottoms during her escape. Jonah agrees to help her find and sell the drugs so she can flee East Texas.

Chasing after them is John Curtis, a local drug kingpin and dog fighter, as well as River’s boyfriend, the dangerous Dakota Cade.

Each person is keeping secrets from the others—deadly secrets that will be exposed in violent fashion as all are forced to come to terms with their choices, their circumstances, and their own definition of God.

With a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unflinching violence juxtaposed against lyrical prose, River, Sing Out dives deep into the sinister world of the East Texas river bottoms, where oppressive poverty is pitted against the need to believe in something greater than the self.

James Wade lives and writes in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Jordan. He has had twenty short stories published in various literary magazines and journals. He is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest and a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Short Fiction Contest. All Things Left Wild is his debut novel.

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Excerpt & Giveaway: All Things Left Wild by James Wade

James Wade

Genre: Adventure / Rural Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 304 pages

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After an attempted horse theft goes tragically wrong, sixteen-year-old Caleb Bentley is on the run with his mean-spirited older brother across the American Southwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Caleb’s moral compass and inner courage will be tested as they travel the harsh terrain and encounter those who have carved out a life there, for good or ill. 

Wealthy and bookish Randall Dawson, out of place in this rugged and violent country, is begrudgingly chasing after the Bentley brothers. With little sense of how to survive, much less how to take his revenge, Randall meets Charlotte, a woman experienced in the deadly ways of life in the West. Together they navigate the murky values of vigilante justice.

Powerful and atmospheric, lyrical and fast-paced, All Things Left Wild is a coming-of-age for one man, a midlife odyssey for the other, and an illustration of the violence and corruption prevalent in our fast-expanding country. It artfully sketches the magnificence of the American West as mirrored in the human soul.

PRAISE for All Things Left Wild:
“A debut full of atmosphere and awe. Wade gives emotional depth to his dust-covered characters and creates an image of the American West that is harsh and unforgiving, but — like All Things Left Wild — not without hope.” — Texas Literary Hall of Fame member Sarah Bird, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

“James Wade has delivered a McCarthy-esque odyssey with an Elmore Leonard ear for dialogue. All Things Left Wild moves like a coyote across this cracked-earth landscape—relentlessly paced and ambitiously hungry.” — Edgar Award finalist David Joy, When These Mountains Burn

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An excerpt from the prologue of All Things Left Wild

by James Wade

Two barn swallows hopped and danced between thin branches in a grove of tangled salt cedar, never getting too close or too far from one another. It was as if their movements were circumscribed by some choreography they were born knowing, and should either decide to quit the routine, the other would surely die of incertitude, and the world would become in an instant a less balanced place.

I watched them, turning away from the sad scene in front of me. The cemetery wasn’t much to look at, unless you were needing to look at wood crosses and chewed-up dirt. There were a few rocks. Somebody had tried to set up a little fence around the graves and their markers, but it didn’t take and now there were old posts lying about on the ground like bodies waiting to be buried themselves.

Fall was late in coming, but the morning air was crisp, and the baked brown grass held onto the dew as long as it could, fighting the rising sun over water rights. The land sloped down into town and the trail up the hill was covered in greasewood and flowered yucca, and the preacher had spoken of the beauty of the morning and the wonder of eternity and all that it held. Beyond the plots the trail gave out, like some woebegone spirit too tired to continue, and there the sumac grew thick and would often times mantle the valley with its perfumed scent. Higher still, the earth pitched itself toward the sky and borne upon it were the juniper and pine of the high country and out from amongst them he rode, atop the old bay horse he’d given to her when they married.

I saw him there on the ridge. He sat his horse like a drunk, slightly slumped and tilting off to one side. He was a drunk. The preacher spoke to the part about life everlasting, but he was too far away to hear. He was too far away for anything.

He had on a black coat and he’d taken off his hat and there he sat in reverence and in sobriety. I turned back to the preacher, and when he was finished I scanned the ridge again and there was nothing and no one and the service had ended.

I smoothed my hair back and pulled my hat down firm over top it and the few dozen people shrouded in black began to all move as one, trudging toward the cheap pine coffin in a manner withdrawn, sending up muffled prayers, wondering about rain and war and if it was too late for breakfast. They nodded at us or gave half-hearted smiles or both. There were hands on our shoulders and pats on our backs. Some offered kind words. Others offered food. We watched them go.

“He was settin’ up there on that ridge,” Shelby said. “Just past the tree line.”

“I know,” I told him.

“You seen him?”

“I did.”

“Well?” he asked.

“Well what?”

“What do you think?”

“What do I think about what?”

“Nothing, I guess.” Shelby walked toward the line of mourners as they filed down the hill, and he stopped midway and turned and stared for a while at the tree line, then walked on.

I stood and watched as the gravediggers lowered her down and filled in the dirt, and when they were finished I stood some more. I didn’t want to go back to the house yet, not even to change clothes.

I walked out from the graveyard and followed a well-trod deer path to Red Creek and sat in the grass. The morning sky glowed golden behind a bank of blue-gray clouds, a quiet caution to the world’s awakening.

The sun was distancing itself from the horizon line, but the clouds had yet to burn off, leaving the eastern half of the world to be filtered through an orange tint. The creek moved slowly, matching the pace of the morning, the water shining pale pink, and on its surface, a bleeding reflection of the world.

A cat-squirrel duo on the far side of the creek were hard at play with some game I could not follow. They barked at one another or at me or at nothing, then in fits and starts they hopped from one tree to the next, clinging to the bark with their arms and legs splayed in an almost sacrificial manner.

A siege of herons passed overhead. The long-legged shorebirds flew beneath the lowest clouds and I saw them and they me and it would be months before they returned north, passing again along the same sky.

I watched them glide across the morning, unencumbered by the changing of the times, following the flight of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, all the while unburdened by such things as doubt and desire. Participating by blood. Born into decisions made long ago and born knowing, but not knowing why. I envied the certitude of their existence. I longed for the conviction of those like my mother who, despite all to the contrary, could maintain a faith in the way of things, holding tight to a structured and resolute reading of every breath until her last.

Instead, at a moment I couldn’t recall, or perhaps in a series of built-upon moments, I accepted ambivalence and unease, and there inside of me they did remain in some dogged cellar of the soul, determined that I should never know peace or certainty again.



James Wade lives and writes in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He has had twenty short stories published in various literary magazines and journals. He is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest and a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Short Fiction Contest. All Things Left Wild is his debut novel.
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TWO WINNERS: A signed copy of All Things Left Wild
JUNE 18-28, 2020
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