Saturday, July 4, 2020

J. Todd Scott

J. Todd Scott was born in rural Kentucky and attended college and law school in Virginia, where he set aside an early ambition to write to pursue a career as a federal agent. His assignments have taken him all over the U.S and the world, but a badge and gun never replaced his passion for books and writing. He now resides in the American Southwest, and when he’s not hunting down very bad men, he’s hard at work on his next book.

Scott is the author of the Texas/Big Bend trilogy: The Far Empty, High White Sun, and This Side of Night.

His new novel, a stand-alone, is Lost River.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are funny things…they tend to come when I least expect them, and I often don’t “title” a book until the end. In fact, I usually use a placeholder title, some word or phrase, and for Lost River, that was “American Vampires” for almost the entire time I was writing it. That was favorite, fictional band of Trey Dorado, one of the book’s viewpoint characters, but I ultimately settled on Lost River, which has significant meaning for one of the other viewpoint characters: Casey Alexander. Lost River is the name of a real cave system she explored with her father while growing up in Kentucky; it also serves to refer obliquely to the (also real) Big Sandy River running near my fictional Angel, KY, and finally, I think it also hints at how all these small towns like Angel have been “lost” or forgotten due to failing economies and the opioid crisis itself.

What's in a name?

Trey Dorado (or Jon Dorado III) is an unusual name. I liked the sound of “Trey,” because it’s simple and sharp, but also ambiguous. I can see someone named that driving a hay truck through a Dairy Queen in Kentucky, just as easily as I can see him listening to his Beats headphones on a New York subway. The “Dorado” part was a play on the myth El Dorado, which over time referred to a man, a city, and then an entire kingdom. El Dorado to me suggests searching for something just out of reach, and the risks you’ll take to find it. It also suggests that oftentimes, attempts to find some new home or new place in some faraway land are just as mythical and futile; home is always with you,

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self could never imagine the adult me writing a book like Lost River. At that age I was more into sci-fi and fantasy, even horror. Horrific things do happen in this book, but there’s nothing fantastical about any of it. It’s all too real, too visceral, too now. I also couldn’t have imagined writing this story because so much of it reflects my long career as a federal agent, and I wasn’t truly contemplating such a career then.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are hard because you’re trying to set the right tone and tempo and voice, and the beginning of any book needs to do so much “lifting” to get the whole story off the ground. Endings are usually a relief, and by the time I’m in the home stretch, I know exactly what I want to say, how I want to say it, and the final images I want to leave the reader. Lost River has a surprisingly gentle coda for a book that has so much darkness and so many sharp edges, but it was truly a joy to write it, and I knew that ending well before I put the words down on the page.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I really don’t see myself in any of the characters in Lost River, although that’s been less true for some of my other novels. I’m not as young as Trey anymore, I’m nowhere near as hot-headed as Casey, and although Paul and Van Dorn are much closer to me in age, our experiences are worlds apart.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Again, for some of my other books, I can point to films or even music that influenced those stories. That’s less true with Lost River. If there was any influence on this book, it’s my job as a federal agent. I thought I had a unique take on the opioid crisis and felt compelled to share some of the things I’d seen and dealt with. I’m hardly a topical writer, but this was a topic I wanted to address.
Visit J. Todd Scott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue