I hope you enjoy this interview with Tim Johnston, the editor of Short Story America (SSA) and an accomplished writer in his own right. In talking with Tim after receiving his responses to my questions, he told me of some interesting developments at SSA as well as those he details in this interview. One future plan is to provide audio versions of the stories along with the written versions. Another really neat detail SSA provides is a “book cover” to accompany each story of the week. Their first year has been a great one and the future looks bright for this endeavor. Now, sit back and enjoy this enlightening interview:
First, let me thank you for taking the time to share this with me and my readers. I am really enjoying Short Story America (SSA).
Q: You have a great concept with your “story of the week” then packaging the results into an annual anthology. It can be tough gaining recognition for a new project during its first year. How is that coming for SSA?
Johnston: The book is gaining great momentum through word of mouth, which is necessary for quality short stories due to the lack of attention which short fiction receives in today’s culture. People love the collection, as well as the site for its page-turning format for each new story, and for the large classics library. Next week we launch our entire contemporary library in downloadable PDF form, for just 99 cents per story. Our readers are excited about that, because they can read stories a la carte if they wish, and can even check out the first page of each story before deciding whether to download it. We’re taking an iTunes approach to our short stories, and that will be available starting on October 21st.
Q: As well as editing SSA, you also write short stories yourself. How did you get started in writing?
Johnston: I started writing short stories in 1999, while teaching American and World Literature at college-preparatory schools. I earned my M.A. in Creative Writing through a total immersion in short fiction, and love this art form with all my heart, as reader and as writer. I enjoy writing short stories, and particularly love the part of it which involves, in the words of Ortega y Gasset, ‘constructing human souls.’
Q: Do you write in longer form or is the short story your primary literary form?
Johnston: I have just finished a working draft of my first novel, which is about 450 pages in length prior to the coming process of further revision and polishing. I haven’t begun looking for an agent. I am also working on the final story for my first collection of short stories.
Q: Talk a bit about co-authors. Do you ever write in a collaborative environment or are your efforts always solitary?
Johnston: I have only written stories in a solitary fashion. However, my story “Friday Afternoon” has been optioned by a great film producer, and he and I begin collaborating on the screen adaptation in November. I’m excited about that, particularly because “Friday Afternoon” is one of his favorite stories as written, so our collaboration will be geared mainly toward translation to how the story is conveyed through the film medium.
Q: Do you have an established routine with your personal writing and your editing of the magazine?
Johnston: I like to write fiction between the hours of 2 and 6 pm, but as a parent of two children that routine has changed due to picking kids up at school, taking them to lessons, that sort of thing which is great fun but also is limiting in terms of writing creatively at that time of day. I have adjusted, and now write late at night and sometimes in the early afternoon, and often on Sunday afternoons. It’s not a locked-in routine, but you do whatever you have to do in order to give undivided attention to both family and the stories and characters who also depend on the writer’s attention and hard work.
Q: I see you are travelling quite a bit promoting the anthology, are most of the people you come in contact with already aware of SSA, or are you winning many new converts?
Johnston: Most people at readings and signings are already aware of Short Story America, but often only on a surface level. When they listen to stories at the readings, they always want to own the book, so I imagine that traveling is indeed gaining new readers, and writers, for Short Story America. I have met a number of writers this way, and it’s great fun, and highly rewarding, to make new friends who share a mutual passion for this important literary art form.
Q: The naysayers are wont to say that the short story as a literary form is dead. What are your thoughts on this? Do you sense a revival for the form underway?
Johnston: It is easy for people to say that because we don’t see something right in front of us every day, it doesn’t exist. We don’t see the grizzly bear or the eagle in our everyday lives, but they are incredible creatures and very much alive. The same is true for the short story. Today’s writers are not famous like the short-story writers of previous generations prior to and because of the cultural dominance of television, radio, computers, cellphones, smartphones, iPods, etc. However, today’s writers are just as good as the best of previous generations. The Short Story America Anthology is proof of this assertion, as the book has been called a “throwback” to the heyday of short stories. This is a great compliment, though I would argue that the book, and our project as a whole, is not a throwback as much as it is an effort to honor today’s short fiction without regard for celebrity or for back-and-forth favors among editors and writers, which has gone on for too long and needs to stop, to be replaced by the practice of publishing good stories regardless of how well known or unknown the author might be. It’s all about the good short story and its lasting effect on the thinking reader.
Q: Who are your favorite modern day short story writers? How about of yesteryear?
Johnston: Ray Bradbury is now ninety years old and still writing. He published a story last year that was superb (not surprising). He is and always has been a master of the form. I love everything by the late master Raymond Carver, and T.C. Boyle is excellent. Stephen King is a master of the short story, regardless of how we might feel about several of his lesser novels. From “yesteryear” (prior to 1970), I am partial to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Dorothy Parker, Eudora Welty, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Irwin Shaw, Nikolai Gogol, Shirley Jackson, Conrad Aiken, and, well….the list is too long to continue here. Suffice to say that the world of the short story is very rich, very deep, and very nourishing for the soul.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add before we conclude?
Johnston: I just want to thank, in advance, everyone who gives our book and our site a good look. The quality of the stories and their authors is very high. Readers and writers who wish to be in touch with me are invited to do so by writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling our office number at 843-524-7800. I enjoy new friendships in this shared passion. Thank you, Keith.