It is most appropriate to have John Floyd as my guest this month–short story month. John is the most prolific, published and paid short story writer I know. His carefully crafted pieces garner many awards while also being placed in magazines like Woman’s World, Saturday Evening Post, Ellery Queen, and a host of others. Hearing from a top short story writer like John, shows us that someone who is talented and works hard can succeed in placing their work, deciphering what editors want, and get paid for the effort.
John Floyd is as gracious as he is talented and consented to be interviewed. You can find other bits and pieces of his advice on writing by simply googling his name–and if you do that you will pull up a mind-boggling list of his accomplishments. So, without further word from me, may I present, John Floyd!
1. When did you start writing? What drew you to the short story form and what keeps you writing short stories? Do you write short stories in other genres besides mystery?
John: I started writing in the late 80s, and finally—after my wife talked me into it—began submitting stories for publication in 1994. I think what drew me to short stories was a love of those little anthology series on TV long ago: Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond, Death Valley Days, etc. I liked the fact that they featured stories that could be told, start to finish, in half an hour or so. And yes, I’ve written and published stories in all genres—but most are mystery/suspense.
2. Do you write other forms as well? (blogging, articles, essays, novels, poems?) Do you focus on crime/mystery in these other forms?
John: I’ve written and published a number of articles and essays, but usually only when editors have requested them, and I’ve written three unpublished novels and (believe it or not) over 300 published poems in places like EQMM, Grit, Farm & Ranch Living, and Writer’s Digest. As for blogging, I posted a column every Saturday for four years at the mystery site http://criminalbrief.com and for the past eight years I’ve written a column every first, third, and fifth Saturday at SleuthSayers.org. And yes, most of my other forms of writing have been focused on mystery/crime.
3. You have been widely published and widely awarded in the mystery field–what advice do you have for writers entering contests?
4. Advice for writers submitting to large national magazines like Women’s World and Ellery Queen?
John: Don’t let the circulation and reputation of these big national magazines intimidate you. They still want and need good stories for every issue. Send in your best work and see what happens.
5. Can you name some of your favorite magazines to read and to submit to?
John: My three favorite magazines to read (AND to submit to) are AHMM, EQMM, and Strand Magazine. Other favorites are Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Flash Bang Mysteries, and The Saturday Evening Post.
6. What writing organizations do you belong to and why for each one? (Benefits you receive and skills you contribute to each, please)?
John: I belong only to the Short Mystery Fiction Society and Mystery Writers of America. I like SMFS because it’s focused on short stories and because of the information shared there by fellow writers; as for MWA, I enjoy their Third Degree magazine and on several occasions I’ve participated in MWA-sponsored workshops and events.
7. What writing conferences have you found most helpful to you and why?
John: The only conference I attend regularly (though not as regularly as I should) is Bouchercon. Many complain that it’s too big to be effective, but I always enjoy the opportunity it offers to meet readers and other writers, and to reconnect with old friends.
8. Do you have an agent? Do you feel an agent is helpful for short story writers or short writers putting together a collection?
John: I do have an agent who represents my novels and, occasionally, some of my stories. He also handles any film projects that result from the stories. In general, no, I don’t think short-story writers need an agent.
9. Have you ever served as a writing contest judge or an editor? What advice can you offer from that perspective
John: I have judged about a dozen fiction-writing contests, and have edited one anthology of short mystery fiction. My advice, on the judging, is to make sure you have time enough to do that, before you commit—some of those contests involve a huge number of manuscripts. The same goes for editing anthologies, and also be ready for some arguments with contributors about changes to their stories. Some writers are a pleasure to work with; others are not.
10. What is the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer and what word or words of advice would you like to pass on to other writers? Anything else you wold like to add that I did not ask about?
John: The best advice I’ve received (and the best that I could pass on to others) is DON’T QUIT. A professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up. Other advice: Read as much as possible, in every genre; write something, or at least think about plots, every day; never pay ANYone ANYthing to consider or publish your work; learn the grammar rules and then break them if you need to; submit regularly to the big markets; let your finished stories “cool off” for a few days before submitting them; don’t use too many exclamation points; and read any interview conducted by Joan Leotta!!!