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

Loren C. Steffy

Genre: Western / Rural Fiction / Small Town
Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
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


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Okay, bear with me for a moment as I let you know how much I associate cowboys and horses with Texas. When I moved to Dallas from Michigan many years ago, I was a bit disappointed when the airplane landed at Love Field and there were no cowboys tying horses to hitching posts in the parking lot.

I really was.

I’d romanticized this great state after reading so many western novels as a teen and young adult, thinking that it was somehow frozen in time, so the reality of Dallas was a great letdown.

A few chapters into The Big Empty, there was a twinge of that same disappointment. While Malloy is a wonderful example of the men who love the land and the cattle and the horses they ride, there wasn’t enough creaking leather to satisfy this reader.

That said, I was not at all disappointed in the story. In fact, I loved the book. I’ve been out to West Texas, and I’ve seen that great expanse of land and sky that goes on for miles and miles with nothing to break the flatness; and I recognized the peacefulness there that appeals to many. So, in reading this book I could understand how this place called to Malloy when he had an opportunity to go off into the world and do something other than punch cows.

And I could see that there was a little bit of me in Malloy, who came across as a person who wished that his land, his way of life, could be frozen in time.

As the rest of the story unfolded, I was drawn more and more into the lives of these people, especially the two central characters who were at odds with each other; and so different one could have come from a different planet. Ironically, that’s kind of how Malloy sees Witherspoon and his ilk, and I get that. I have little tolerance for people who flaunt their positions, wealth, and power, so I was firmly in Malloy’s camp.

For most of the story I really disliked Witherspoon, but then he would surprise me with something almost nice, and I could forgive him for being a self-absorbed man who wanted nothing more than to make a lot of money so he could live in a big beautiful house and play golf and hobnob with other rich, powerful men. And I had to admire his grit when he first rode out to watch the branding of new calves with Malloy, even though I chuckled at the tennis shoes and bike helmet.

Malloy’s struggle over the future of his son – should he let him follow his desire to work the ranch like his father and grandfather before him, or should he push the boy toward college and a future that didn’t include eating dust every day – was an integral part of the story. A better future for the young people of the dying town of Conquistador is what led to the agreement to build the new high-tech plant. But even though the decision had been made, I could see how Malloy would have his doubts when the importance and legacy of ranching overrode some of his thinking.

The push pull between that old way of life and a different way of life that Witherspoon’s plant offered the community was a driving force for many of the people who’d been with the ranch for so many years. Had they made the right decision or not? It isn’t a question with an easy answer, and the way the story played out was masterfully handled by the author.

It’s hard to say much more without giving away major plot points, but I encourage you to hang on to your Stetson as this story rolls to a dramatic climax. Kudos to the author for a wonderful debut novel.


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.


Stoney Creek Publishing




Signed copy of The Big Empty and logo hat.
(US only; ends midnight CST 11/25/21)




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