"...WE ARE SHAPED BY THE PLACES WE'RE FROM": AN INTERVIEW WITH CALL THE DARK'S J. TODD SCOTT
J. Todd Scott is best known for gritty rural crime novels like his Big Bend County series. Lately he has injected thriller and horror elements into his work like his latest Call The Dark which focusses on a woman on the run from criminals and a "gifted girl" on the run from operatives who cross paths when the girl's plane crashes in the Appalachian Mountains. I talked to Jay about the book, experimentation, and growth as a writer.
SCOTT MONTGOMERY: Call The Dark is a unique blend of stories. How did it come about?
J. TODD SCOTT: I knew I wanted to write a high-concept, high-speed thriller—a departure from some of my earlier books—and all I had was the image of that plane crashing in the nighttime snowy wilderness as a young woman looked on; a woman who happened to be burying/hiding something of her own beneath the trees. It was a powerful image even without context, or much of a story to go with it, so I let that image guide me. I usually start a book with a pretty good idea of the characters, if nothing else, but that wasn’t the case here.
S.M.: How did you go about blending the genres?
J.T.S.: To be honest, I’ve always played fast and loose with the concept of genre. I knew I wanted this book to be fast, for it to have a certain tempo, and I knew it wanted to have some recognizable thriller elements, but beyond that, I didn’t worry too much about fitting it into a specific genre. Both this book and the prior novel, THE FLOCK, share some horror DNA, and that’s just because I’ve always had a fondness for those kinds of stories. My agent often says that my books usually have this bit of “otherness” about them, and that’s true for CALL THE DARK.
S.M.: The more fantastic elements of the book have a very grounded feel. How did you approach them?
J.T.S.: Much as I wanted this book to have a certain tempo, I very much also wanted the supernatural or horror elements to have a truly plausible feel—that otherness I talked about. It was important to me that the characters themselves struggle with the things they end up experiencing; that those who survive the mountain are just as unsure as the reader about what might have been “real,” or what might have only been in their heads due to exposure, injury, or trauma. I purposefully don’t explain much in CALL THE DARK, letting the readers fill in the blanks for themselves. The monsters you find on Black Mountain are often the ones you’re already looking for.
4. You've been able to dip your toe in horror in this and your last book, The Flock. What do you enjoy about writing in that genre?
There’s so much freedom in horror, more so than the straighter crime novels I’ve been known for. Growing up, I was huge fan of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, and the like, and these last two books are homages to those authors I read and admired so much as a young adult. The novel I was first agented on was a horror story, so in truth, horror has always been near and dear to my heart.
5. You've been writing for some of Taylor Sheridan shows lately. Has that had any effect on your prose?
I was very fortunate to be brought onto LAWMEN: BASS REEVES, an upcoming mini-series on Paramount+ that was produced by Taylor Sheridan. Writing scripts for TV/film is very different than novels, and I know I tried to write CALL THE DARK with some of the cinematic prose and pacing I had to adopt for my scriptwriting. I would be lying if I said I didn’t write CALL THE DARK with a future screenplay in mind! But screenwriting is the definition of economy and action, and anyone who’s read some of my books knows I enjoy a good slow burn, so I had bit of learning curve when it came to screenwriting. Fortunately, I had some great mentors in the BASS REEVES writing room, and look forward to more opportunities in the future.
6. One of the things I love about the writing is you depict rural characters with respect. What do you want to get across to the reader about small town America?
Thanks, and it’s definitely a conscious decision. Writing about New York or LA or some other big city simply doesn’t interest me. Small towns, with their long-standing families and bloodlines, their deep-rooted secrets and mysteries and stories, are perfect backdrops for the kinds of stories I want to tell. A rural community is just as much character in my books as the protagonist, and I believe we are shaped by the places where we’re from.