Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Book Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Big Empty by Loren C. Steffy

Welcome to my stop on the book blog tour for The Big Empty by Loren C. Steffy. This blog tour was organized by Lone Star Book Blog Tours. On my stop, I have an excerpt from the book as well as the tour wide giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of the book and a hat. Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more content. Enjoy!
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Title: The Big Empty
Author: Loren C. Steffy
Publication Date: May 25th 2021
Print Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary Western Fiction
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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.

Publisher (25% off) * TAMU Press
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PRAISE:
“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
Prologue, Part I

A frozen wall of fear hit Trace Malloy seconds before the oncoming truck. The grille covering the big diesel engine filled his windshield. The horn blew a pneumatic wail that plied his thoughts reluctantly, coaxing him out of his reverie too late to turn away. His right hand shot out instinctively to steady his coffee in the cup holder as he pulled hard with his left on the wheel. Both were futile gestures.

The impact snapped him forward, then back again, as his pickup seemed to hop off the ground and bounce into the bar ditch beside the road. The seat belt snapped hard against his sternum. He heard the big truck’s tires lock up behind him as it skidded to a stop. The sound of rubber grinding on asphalt lingered for a moment. Malloy felt his one hundred-sixty-five-pound frame compress into the unforgiving seat, forcing the last bit of air from his lungs. The pickup was suddenly still.

Coffee burned through the leg of his jeans, and his chest felt as if he’d been hit with a two-by-four. He moved hesitantly and was relieved when his body responded with only dull aches. No shooting pains probably meant nothing was broken. He’d likely saved himself the humiliation of explaining what had just happened to Doc Lambeau.

He cursed himself for not paying attention. Looking through the windshield, already cracked before the collision, he tried to orient himself. He felt like a child caught daydreaming in school, his mind racing to catch up with what he’d missed. The bar ditch rolled out in front of him, a partner to the long black line of asphalt on the left, both pulled taut toward the horizon.

He found himself hoping the pickup would still be drivable. He’d managed to swerve enough that the impact must have been a glancing blow. The fact that he was still conscious, still in one piece, seemed to prove that. He’d have to explain how he’d busted up a truck on the open road. The embarrassing truth was he’d just been thinking. Not about anything in particular, he was just letting his mind wander. He’d rolled through his days in Kansas — why they were suddenly in his mind so much he didn’t know — and about Colt’s accident last summer. By the time the truck hit him, his mind had meandered back to its favorite worry — would he and Darla be better off selling out and moving to town or trying to make it through one more year. And if they made it through that one, what about the next one?

His brain had a way of sidestepping when something was bothering him. Instead of obsessing over a problem as some people’s do, his mind tried to distract him by conjuring images from the past. Still, as always, there was a common thread to these random thoughts — Colt’s injury, the family farm, his days in Kansas, Luke’s death. They all led back to the same problem, one that he couldn’t solve. That didn’t stop his mind from revisiting it, even if he was driving down the road and should have been thinking about work. His mother, who never believed in stewing over intractable concerns, would have scolded him if she’d seen how distracted he’d been. “Make your peace with the Lord, and you don’t have to worry,” she’d say. He never found it that easy, peace or no peace. Besides, his mother was usually referring to death. These days she didn’t speak of it anymore, of course. Not now that it was almost upon her, now that it had, for all practical purposes, already claimed her. For that matter, she didn’t speak of much of anything. And if she did, Malloy wasn’t around to hear it.

He tugged on the door handle of the pickup and it opened with its usual hesitation. As he stepped out, he could see the crumpled fender. The headlight was gone, and part of the wheel cover had been pressed down into the tire, puncturing it. He cursed again. Changing it wasn’t going to be easy in the ditch.

“Are you okay?” The question came from over his shoulder. He turned around and looked up from under the red brim of his cap. Years of grime and dirt had obscured the hat’s patch that said “Possum Kingdom Lake.” More than a decade of use had bent the brim of the fishing-trip souvenir into a gentle crescent that cupped his sunglasses. The trip now seemed a lifetime ago, one of the last times he and his brother, Matt, had enjoyed each other’s company, pulling up 30-pound catfish from the depths of the lake itself and later plucking small-mouthed bass from the river below the dam.

“I’m fine,” Malloy said.

The other man stood on the roadside, hands at his waist with the palms turned upward, as if he couldn’t decide whether to shrug or fight. Either way, Malloy wasn’t worried. The man wore jeans and a green shirt with a pale plaid pattern and buttons through the collar points. Underneath, a t-shirt was plainly visible. Both shirts — faded cotton — were tucked neatly into the jeans and secured with a webbed belt. He had on wire-rimmed glasses and his swept-back hair made it look as if he had something stored in his cheeks.

“You swerved right into me,” the man said, his voice rising sharply in the middle of the sentence and falling at the end. “I couldn’t stop. I’m driving that big truck; I couldn’t turn fast enough. I was afraid it’d flip over.”

“My fault. Sorry,” Malloy said, walking up out of the ditch.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to say that. Insurance companies said to never admit wrongdoing. More importantly, he knew company policy forbade it. He glanced back at the damaged fender. If he could pull the metal free of the airless tire, he could probably change the flat and get the truck down to Terry Garrison without having to involve the adjuster that the company inevitably would send out. It seemed pointless to argue over something he knew was his fault. “You mess up, you fess up,” his mother used to say.
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(Read Part II, starting 11/19/21 on Book Fidelity.)
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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GIVEAWAY:
Win a signed copy of The Big Empty by Loren C. Steffy and logo hat - three winners!
(US only.)

(All the Ups and Downs is not responsible for this giveaway, its entries, or the prizes. The author, Loren C. Steffy, assumes all responsibility for this giveaway.)


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