By Laura Oles
If you love reading short stories—or writing them—chances are you’ve come across John M. Floyd’s work. John is the author of over a thousand short stories in publications like AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Mississippi Noir, The Saturday Evening Post, and four editions of Otto Penzler’s best-mysteries-of-the-year anthologies. He is an Edgar finalist, a Shamus Award winner, a five-time Derringer Award winner, and the author of nine books. He is also the 2018 recipient of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s lifetime achievement award.
I had the good fortune of sitting next to John at the Bouchercon 2019 anthology Denim, Diamonds, and Death: 50th Year signing. His story, “The Midnight Child,” precedes mine, “The Deed,” in the anthology, which meant we were also placed together for this event. Getting to know John was, for me, a highlight of the Bouchercon conference. This is a writer who loves the work. Below is our conversation about his career beginnings, his love of short form fiction and his advice to those with an interest in writing short stories.
LO: I’d love to start with your career at IBM as an engineer. Were you already writing short stories by then or did that come later?
JF: The writing bug bit me in the mid-1990s, while I was working for IBM. I was a systems engineer specializing in finance application (banking) software and traveling a lot, both here and overseas, and it was during some of those times spent alone in hotels, airplanes and airports that I started dreaming up stories. And once I started, I couldn’t stop.
LO: What drew you to the short story form? And to the mystery genre?
JF: I think my love for short fiction probably came from a childhood of watching those little anthology shows on TV like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond. They had different stories every week, were usually half an hour in length, and often had surprise endings. In a way, each episode was the visual equivalent of a genre short story, and I loved ‘em. As for the mystery genre, I’ve always liked reading and watching crime/suspense stories.
LO: I enjoyed discovering that you’re also a poet with an impressive collection in print. What drew you to poetry?
JF: Well, I’m one of those poets who isn’t really a poet (and I noet). The poetry I’ve written and sold has mostly been light verse, because I love humor and wordplay. My collection of poems, called Lighten Up a Little, is a book of 300 humorous poems published in places like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Grit, Writers’ Journal, Farm & Ranch Living, etc., and are designed primarily to make you smile (and maybe Laugh Out Loud). In the introduction to the book, I pointed out that if you’re searching for enlightenment, inspiration, or the Meaning of Life, you might want to look elsewhere.
LO: Many fellow writers marvel at your prolific ability to consistently create compelling tales that draw the reader in. Can you give us a peek inside your process? What does an average day and/or week look like for you?
JF: My process, such as it is, involves first thinking of a plot and then populating it with (hopefully) interesting people to make the story happen. Only when I have the plot in my head (beginning, middle, and end) do I start writing. Be aware, the storyline isn’t set in stone—it might change a bit once the writing starts—but I do like to have that structure firmly in mind before I begin. Then, once the story is on paper, I rewrite and polish it and send it to a market. On an average day I might write several pages, but even when I’m not writing I’m usually plotting stories in my head. The idea/plotting part usually takes a few days or a week, the writing itself takes a couple of days, and the rewriting several more. As soon as I’m done, I usually light a new story up off the butt of the last one, like a chain-smoker, and keep going—and have been doing that for almost thirty years now.
LO: Which short stories by other writers have you read and just thought, “That’s something special.” It would be madness to try to pick only one, but are there certain ones that stayed with you long after you finished reading?
JF: Yes. A few stories I especially like are “Man From the South” by Roald Dahl, “The Last Rung on the Ladder” by Stephen King, “Voodoo” by Fredric Brown, “The Green Heart” by Jack Ritchie, and “The Kugelmass Episode” by Woody Allen. Some of these are long and some very short, but all are great fun to read.
LO: What are you reading right now?
JF: I’m RE-reading a novel by Nelson DeMille called “Wild Fire.” Just before that I read “Blowback,” a political thriller co-written by James Patterson and our mutual friend Brendan DuBois. Both novels are excellent, but don’t tell Brendan—I think he’s already having trouble getting his old hats to fit.
LO: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
JF: What’s spare time? Seriously, though, I like walking, movies, puzzles, and playing with grandkids (we have seven).
LO: What advice would you share with writers who would like to pursue writing short stories for publication?
JF: Read a lot of them, write a lot of them, and DON’T QUIT. I once heard that a professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up.
LO: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
JF: Yes: Try reading some short stories, especially those in places like Hitchcock and Ellery Queen and Strand Magazine. I love novels too, but there’s just something special about reading (and writing) the short stuff. You might find you like it.
John M. Floyd is the author of more than a thousand short stories in publications like AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Mississippi Noir, The Saturday Evening Post, and four editions of Otto Penzler’s best-mysteries-of-the-year anthologies. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John is an Edgar finalist, a Shamus Award winner, a five-time Derringer Award winner, and the author of nine books. He is also the 2018 recipient of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s lifetime achievement award. You can learn more at http://www.johnmfloyd.com
One thought on “In Conversation with John M. Floyd: Short Stories, Long Walks and Words on the Page”
Thanks for this, both of you. Time spent with John Floyd is time well spent!