02 May 2020

Strange but True

My SleuthSayers colleague Melodie Campbell and I were swapping emails last week about how nice it is to receive a bit of good news and encouragement now and then, during these fearsome times. Melodie's writing news, in case you haven't heard, is that her novella The Goddaughter Does Vegas has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award. (Congratulations again, Melodie!)

This got me to thinking about some of the surprises and unusual things, both good and bad, that have happened to me in my 26-year writing "career." Here are a few that come to mind:

Believe it or not . . .

- Four of the first five short stories I ever submitted to magazines were accepted and published. (Boy this is easy, I thought.) The next thirteen--thirteen in a row--were rejected.

- On two separate occasions, due to printing errors, my stories appeared in a national magazine under someone else's byline. After one of those I received an email from a confused reader asking if I also write under the name Elizabeth Hawn.

- I once gave a presentation at a rural library and 75 people showed up. Several months later I did a similar talk at another library and two people attended, besides me. Both of them were library employees.

- I have twice received acceptance letters for stories I didn't write. File that under Excitement and
Then Disappointment.

- I have on three occasions been paid for stories in advance (before they were written). I wish that happened more often.

- When our oldest son's wife and their children were bumping across Africa on a tour last year, they saw another passenger in their van reading one of my books. That was a happy (for me) piece of vacation news.

- A customer at a chain-store signing once asked me to sign one of my books for him but not to personalize it, because he said he might change his mind before he checked out.

- Another man at one of my signings told me he'd enjoyed several of my books, especially the first one: A Time to Kill. He was less than pleased when I informed him that he had the wrong John.

- Bad surprise: Long ago, a movie project based on one of my stories was suddenly cancelled two weeks before filming was to begin. Cast and crew and locations were ready, original music was written, etc.--and everything stopped. Good surprise: In January 2019, fifteen years later, a Hollywood producer contacted me via my website to express interest in another of my stories (which thankfully wound up getting optioned). I almost didn't see his email--it went to my spam folder.

- I once submitted a short story (electronically, to the UK) and received an acceptance three hours later. Two other stories (to Kansas and to Michigan) received acceptances almost three years later. Rejections--too many to remember--have ranged from two days to two years.

- My payment for one of my stories was a lifetime subscription to the magazine. (A mixed blessing.)

- The agent I acquired to market my novels has instead helped me sell several short stories and the film rights and foreign rights to other stories. My novels remain unsold.

- I once (only once) shared a literary short list with Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Doug Allyn, and Gillian Flynn. Flynn won.

- A friend once told me she takes my books with her when she drives, and reads the stories at stoplights. I asked her not to mention that in accident reports.

- My magazine credits include The Shantytown Anomaly, Appalling Limericks, Barbaric Yawp, and Volcano Quarterly.

- Another booksigning incident: A lady who said we'd met long ago thanked me for using her as a character in one of my stories (although the character had a different name). I told her it was my pleasure. I had no idea who she was, so the whole thing was news to me.

- One of my stories was rejected two dozen times, and on the 25th try I sold it for $ 900. (Never give up!)

From Russia with royalties

Back to what Melodie and I were discussing the other day, which is the fact that bright spots often pop up during dark times . . .

The strangest and most surprising thing to happen to me lately came as a result of an email I received from a book publisher in Moscow last month. It came in via my website and (once again) landed in my spam folder, which--believe me--I have learned to check every day. Messages my computer thinks is junk sometimes turn out to be manna from Heaven.

This email informed me that the publishers had seen my short stories in the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post and would like to reprint those stories in a bilingual collection. We signed the contracts about two weeks ago. The book, to be called Selected Stories by John M. Floyd, will be released in both print and electronic formats by Publishing House VKN Limited, later this year. I'm told that one of the markets for the book will be readers who want to learn English--the stories will be featured with the original English text side-by-side with the literal translation into Russian with grammatical, lexical, and phonetical commentary.

Several of my writing buddies, including my fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti, have secured unexpected book deals with publishers overseas, and even though I've had a number of individual stories translated and published in foreign magazines, this particular kind of arrangement is new territory for me. I owe sincere thanks to the publisher for its interest, to my agent for handling all the details, and to The Saturday Evening Post for featuring these stories in the first place.

A reborn identity

Like Melodie's recent award nomination, news of my upcoming book of stories is especially gratifying because it's further recognition of work that is already out there and had already achieved its intended purpose. When something you've created and sold and was published goes on to take on new life afterward, it's a good feeling, and an inspiration to keep sowing those seeds. And there are plenty of opportunities for that. You never know when or if something you've written might be seen and selected for an award, a movie adaptation, a best-of anthology, or some other kind of unexpected bonus.

Some of those bolts-from-the-blue can not only earn you more money, they can reach a whole new audience. My first exposure to the fiction of Tom Franklin, Annie Proulx, Brendan DuBois, and others came not from their novels or magazine appearances but from reprints of their shorts that I found in annual anthologies like Best American Mystery Stories and Best American Short Stories.

Lockdown in the boondocks

My point is, all of us writers have highs and lows, some experiences that are happy and some that are miserable--but patience, like hard work, usually pays off, in both the literary world and the real world. If you wait long enough (and shelter-in-place long enough?) good things will eventually happen.

Be safe, everybody. Keep writing.


  1. Congrats on the Derringer Award for On the Road with Mary Jo.

  2. You've got me smiling, John. Some of your experiences, like that woman who thought you based a character on her ... Wow! Thanks for sharing all of it. And congrats again on the Derringer!

  3. To Anonymous--thank you! I was thrilled and honored by that, and surprised too. That story was great fun to write!

    To Barb--thank you as well. Feeling very fortunate right now, and SO grateful for the honor. As for the experiences, it's fun to try to remember the really crazy things that have happened to me, so many of them unique to writers and writing--who could imagine all the goofy things we hear and see at signings, for instance. The woman I mentioned was truly convinced that someone I'd put into a story was based on her, when I had NO IDEA who she was or what she was talking about. But hey, she apparently liked the story, so I was pleased to hear that.

  4. John, you've inspired me to write a follow up on things that have happened to me.

  5. The Ups and Downs of the Writer's Life! And congratulations on your Derringer win, John!

  6. O'Neil, all of us who have been writing awhile have run into those things, and--again--some are fun and happy and some are things we really don't even like to think about. And dealing with editors and publishers--whoa, that's a whole nuther world, too.

    Stay safe, down there, and keep me posted!

  7. Hey Paul! Yep, sometimes it feels like more downs than ups, but days like yesterday sure helped--thank you for the congrats. Again, that story of mine was a lot of fun to put together, so it was extra gratifying that it happened to win. Y'all be safe!

  8. Congratulations, John! On the book deal, on the movie deal - and all your wonderful stories.
    Stay safe, stay well, stay home - now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go check my spam folder.

  9. Eve, make SURE to check that spam folder--it's usually a pit of useless ads and scams, as it should be, but sometimes it's a gold mine. Makes you wonder how many legitimate emails go unseen and unanswered. And thank you for the kind words--it's actually been a lucky year for me so far, writingwise, though real life is about as uncertain as any of us have seen it a long time. Yes, stay home and healthy and be safe.

  10. So much to comment on! Thanks so much for the mentions, John. You are a generous guy. And big congrats to you, of course! I smile whenever I see your name on the shortlists and winner lists now (and they are usually on both!)

    You've inspire me to write another post about my glam life as an author. So many similarities. I'll share one from this year: I was notified in a very glam way (quite publicly) that I was a finalist for the Ontario Library Association award for YA fiction (my first YA book.) But strangely, they had the name of my book wrong. Seems they had the book right and the author wrong, sigh. Very public retraction ensued. Can it get any worse than that? groan

  11. Oh, Mel. That's terrible. I'm sorry.

  12. John, you done good again. Congrats on another Derringer!

  13. Thank you, Melodie. That Arthur Ellis nom is a huge thing, and I wish you the best. Even being a finalist is a great honor.

    You're right, that book-name (author-name?) error you mentioned was a bad one--but that kind of thing happens more often than many folks realize. And when it's an honest mistake it's hard to get upset about it. The wrong-author mistakes I mentioned in this post were on a much smaller scale than yours--in each of them, the editor sent me an acceptance letter (actually an email) congratulating me for writing such a fine story, etc., they wanted to buy it, etc., and as soon as I saw the story name, I knew of course that it wasn't mine. But AT FIRST it looked like, well, just an acceptance latter, and all of us like to get those. As you said, SIGH. There are indeed many more experiences like those, that all of us have, if we do this crazy job long enough.

    I know your honors will continue to come. Keep up the great writing!

  14. R.T., just saw your note--thank you! Hope all is well with you AND your writing, my friend. Stay in touch!

  15. First, John, huge contracts on the Derringer win. Your story was absolutely delightful. I'm not surprised it won.
    You mentioned: "My magazine credits include The Shantytown Anomaly, Appalling Limericks, Barbaric Yawp, and Volcano Quarterly."
    And I'm picturing places you've been. A shantytown, England for the limericks, an archeology site in Norway, and a Volcano in Hawaii. Have I got that right? Armchair traveling, for sure.
    Your posts are great fun to read. Keep up the good work (we know you will), and please stay safe and healthy.

  16. Hey Jan -- Thanks for stopping in, and for your kind words. As for those wild magazines, the limericks WERE appalling, and the yawps barbaric. And although I have been to more than one shantytown and also to Hawaii, the closest I've come to a real volcano was a flight over Mt. St. Helens long after it decided to act up. So yes, a lot of armchair traveling--my contributions to those publications didn't require onsite research. Other interesting magazines that have featured my profound literature were The Aardvark Adventurer, Blind Man's Rainbow, Laughter Loaf, Mythic Delirium, Antipodean SF, Krax, Hadrosaur Tales, Nuthouse, Mouth Full of Bullets, Firm Noncommittal, Medicinal Purposes, etc., etc. All of them were fun, and most now defunct.

    You be safe also. Always good to hear from you!

  17. What a delightful accumulation of oddities, John! Thanks for sharing them.

    My own favorite writing-life oddity happened forty-some years ago. I was in NYC for the Edgars and got together beforehand at the Algonquin with Ed Hoch, AHMM editor Ernie Hutter, and eight or nine other writers and editors. I was maybe nineteen or twenty years old and excited to have received my first-ever fan letter. I'd brought it with me and pulled it out and read it aloud ... and one by one, all of the other people at the table (even Ernie) sheepishly reached into their pockets and pulled out the exact same handwritten letter, all as it turned out written by the same one guy who'd somehow managed to get hold of a copy of the MWA membership directory and had written fan letters to everyone....

    Congrats again on the Derringer, John! Keep 'em coming!

  18. HA!! Love that story, Josh! That's one I'll have to remember. I can just imagine their looks, and your embarrassment.

    I bet it's amazing how much you learned, as a very young writer, in the company of legends like Ed Hoch. I didn't even know the name Ernie Hutter--the first editor I knew at AHMM was Cathleen Jordan, who was a wonderful lady and bought several of my early stories, in the mid- to late 90s. But forty-plus years in this business??? Impressive background, Josh.

    Congrats once again on your Derringer win yesterday, and on your lifetime achievement award. Well deserved!

  19. Congratulations on the Derringer and the foreign book deal. That's really cool! You're going to be teaching English.
    Also, congrats to Melodie.

  20. Thanks, Bob! Yep, that Russian book opportunity was a surprise in every way. My high school teachers would laugh their heads off if they knew I was attempting to teach anyone about English.

    Stay safe, old friend!

  21. I had an early story accepted by a brand-new magazine and that was the last I ever heard of the magazine! Glad I didn't sign a contract! I got a rejection for a story where the letter opened with the words "Dear Maria." They did get the name of my story right! I get called "Jim" in person sometimes, but "Maria?" (Say it loud and there's music playing/Just too bad there's no editor paying.) Congrats on being published in Russia, John! I remember reading that Isaac Asimov found out that a lot of bootleg copies of his books were translated into Chinese! Oh, and Asimov wrote that he had gotten rejections from the editors of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine! As a buddy of mine used to say; "Keep plugging away!"

  22. Hey, Jeff, those experiences of yours are wilder than mine! Sometimes you really do wonder if, at those editors' offices, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

    I once got a rejection letter for a story and then, before I could find another market to submit the story to, another latter came from the same editor--and this one was an acceptance of that story, with no mention at all of the previous letter. (One of those mysteries that I didn't attempt to solve.) And several times I've had stories accepted AFTER I'd given up and sent notes withdrawing the story from consideration. Sigh.

    Love your note about Asimov getting a rejection from Asimov's. That's a Rodney Dangerfield moment for sure.

    Many thanks for the comment!


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