NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
by John M. Floyd
As the rookie on the team of Criminal Brief correspondents, I thought it might be a good idea to use this first column to tell you a little about me, and sort of sit on the side of the pool (or at least paddle around in the shallow end) before plunging into the meaningful stuff. So here goes . . .
My name is John Floyd, I live just outside Jackson, Mississippi, I have three grown kids and three grandchildren, I’m a former Air Force captain, and I spent 30 years with IBM Corporation. How, one might ask, does that background qualify me to write — or even comment on — stories of mystery and suspense? Well, it doesn’t. But in addition to the other things I’ve done in my life, I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. The shelves of my home office are filled with so many books, most of them mysteries and thrillers, that my wife swears they are the reason we had problems with the foundation of our house several years ago. And many of those books are anthologies and story collections, since I especially love short fiction.
I think what got me started on the short stuff was the fact that when I was a kid in the fifties and sixties, I watched a lot of half-hour television programs like “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “One Step Beyond”, “Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, and “Death Valley Days.” As some of you (at least those old enough to receive requests in the mail to join AARP) might remember, those shows weren’t regular series like “Star Trek” or “Wagon Train” or “Peter Gunn”; instead, they were separate, standalone stories that (1) featured different characters every week, (2) had definite beginnings, middles, and endings, (3) were structured in such a way that they could be told, start to finish, in thirty minutes, and (4) usually included surprise or “twist” endings. I was crazy about that kind of thing, and still am, and I firmly believe that the literary equivalent of those bite-sized TV shows is the short story — and specifically the “genre” short story, which of course includes mystery/suspense.
Short stories of any kind are a unique form of fiction. As a reader, I think of a short story as something I can sit down and enjoy and finish within an hour or so; as a writer, it’s something I can complete quickly and stuff into an envelope and send to an editor — and then turn around and write something entirely different the next day. Either way, short stories appeal to me on a very basic level, and sometimes give me far more satisfaction than reading or writing a longer work. Novels are fun too, to read and to create, but in my opinion there’s something special about a well-done piece of short fiction. I once heard that a short story is more like a poem than a novel, because the writing must be tight and focused, and not waste any words.
The way I got my first stories published and began my “career” of writing and selling short crime fiction is probably a matter for another day and another column, but my point is that I truly enjoy writing, as well as reading the work of others, and I plan to continue doing both until they wheel me out feet-first. Besides, the storytelling process itself seems to come naturally for me: I grew up here in the Deep South, where folks my age spent their childhoods listening to stories told by just about everyone — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, even the vagrants (we called them hoboes) who passed through town now and then on the way to who knows where. The South of my youth was a green, humid, delightful place that had more than its share of weird characters who were ideal for plugging into the stories that I would later write. And it remains a place that despite its troubled history — or maybe because of it — seems to grow authors the way it grows kudzu. Some say it’s hard to open your car door down here without bumping into another writer.
Anyhow, that’s my background. I am pleased and honored to have been invited to join this talented group of contributors, and I hope to be able to offer you a little entertainment — and occasionally some insight — over the coming weeks and months.
Thanks for allowing me this “introductory” session. Next time I’ll hold my nose and leap into the deep water.
I look forward to hearing from you.