Hark, ye fine and noble word crafters and dream peddlers! On Saturday, Feb. 13, the El Paso Writers’ League will bring “The Far Empty” author J. Todd Scott, who will talk about the ins and outs of getting published.
“The Far Empty,” which drops June 7, is a crime novel about a small Texas border town that finds a skeleton buried in its outskirts.
We caught up with Señor Scott, who’s also a federal agent, and chatted about the writing process.
Q. Did the “The Far Empty” come from your experience as a federal agent?
The book itself is not about my job or anything to do with my career, but it is a crime novel. It was formed by my time living here in Texas.
Q. How long did it take you to write the novel?
I actually had the first line of the book on a scrap of paper for like a year. I was doing the drive between Alpine and Midland and on that drive I was thinking about that first line I had and pretty much the whole story came to me during that two-hour drive. And then it took me about nine months, from start to finish, to get it done.
Q. Do you just write or are you always going back and messing with things?
I tend to write straight through. I write every day in morning. I do about 600-1,100 words during the week and about 2,000 on the weekend. I tend to plot four or five chapters in advance. I generally know where I’m going to end up even if I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I also use a technique a lot of screenwriters use, which is the storyboard. It allows me to visually stand back and see the whole book. … Once I have a good rough draft, then I go back and do my revisions.
Q. How do you know when the book is done?
Well, there's an argument to be made that it's never done. At some point you have to feel comfortable that you've told the story that you wanted to tell. I found – for me – that I'm my own best audience. I write the book that I want to read. I tell the story that I want to tell. I get as much of that down as I can, but at some point, you have to say, “It's close enough to the vision I had in my head.”
Q. How does the revision process go?
Each book, even after I submit it to my agent to read, will go through revisions. She'll see things that she thinks should be changed. After you sell a book to a publisher, you go through edits as well. How many rounds of edits depends. You have story revisions, where you change characters or streamline things, and then you have more specific edits in terms of copy edits and grammar and spelling and those type of things. But by the time my book hits the shelves, I revised it on my own four times, with my agent twice and revised with the editor at Putnam (Publishing) a couple of times.
Q. Any advice for unpublished writers?
You have to find what works for you; write at night, write in the mornings, every other day, but you have to stick with it. You have to demystify the process.
There is something creative that happens when you’re writing, but at the end of the day, it’s just putting one word after another. It can be fun work, it can be stressful or frustrating work, but as long as you do the work, at the end, hopefully you’ll have a story.
El Paso Writers’ League Meeting
Saturday, Feb. 13
Dorris Van Doren Library, 551 E. Redd Rd.
Info at facebook.com/ElPasoWritersLeague