Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Short Story Genius

Today I have someone on my blog who is special.  I met Gary Hoffman in the Okeechobee Writers League and was swept away by his skill in writing short stories.  Not only did I and the other members of the group think so, but publication in numerous magazines and ezines, was well as anthologies attest to his skill.

Gary lives and writes in Okeechobee, Florida.  He has published work in THEMA, Homestead Review, Woman's World, Mystical-e, and roughly fifty other periodicals.  He has won over a hundred awards for short stories in contests, in one case winning four of the eight possible places.  He has attended workshops for Ozarks Creative Writer's and Florida Writer's Association.

His short story collection, I haven’t Lost My Marbles:  They Just All Rolled to One Side, is now available and published by Mockingbird Lane Press.
Gary at work

Gary's newest book

Welcome, Gary.  I'm glad you could take time away from creating your memorable stories.
You mostly write short stories.  Why?  What do you think the advantages are of writing short stories over novel length tales?  I may work on a short story for a month before I send it out.  It may take a year or more to write a novel and them it gets rejected after an editor has had it for six or seven months.  A short story may be seen by six or more editors in the same length of time.  My short story can be sent out again as soon as I get it back.  And if I think I’ve got a good story, it won’t sit around long between rejection and resubmission. Many times the same day.   I may also lack the patience to write a full length novel, although I have done it.
Which do you like writing best?  Dialogue or description?  Why? Definitely dialogue.  When I’m reading anything and get to long sections of description, I usually skip over them.  Dialogue is where the story happens.  That’s where the action is.  It’s what moves your story.  I have written two thousand word stories with maybe fifty words that weren’t dialogue.
You’re a published writer of short stories.  Did you find it difficult to find publishers for your work?  No.  Many small presses today are into anthologies or collections by one author.  Many of the same magazines that have been around for some time are also still going strong—ex. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Storyteller.  I’m not saying the markets just jump out at you.  You have to dig and keep on top of current trends to see who is printing what and in what genres. is a great web site for this
You’ve been in a number of writers’ groups.  What do you find useful about these groups for your writing?  Are there disadvantages to writers’ groups?  Finding a writer’s group that fits you is like finding a mate or spouse.  If you find one that works, hang on for dear life.  Probably 99.9% of the groups I’ve checked out are not really right for me.  And have a thick skin when you do find one.  It’s tough to listen to someone else cut apart your “baby” when you’ve got a lot of sweat, blood, and beer into it.  Many of the people I’ve met in writer’s groups have never submitted anything in their life.  To me, a person doesn’t earn the right to call themselves a writer unless they have some rejection slips.  They’re just pretending.  If I ever started a writer’s group of my own, the ticket for submission would be publication or at least ten rejection notices.  Some of the disadvantages are getting feedback that is worthless when people are just trying to be nice.  I’m not looking for nice.  I’m looking for help.
What’s your scheme for marketing your work?  Keep submitting.  I’ve told people for years now that I have found a guaranteed way to get short stories published.  Submit!  Over and over  and over again if necessary.  My record right now is submitting one story seventeen times before it was published and then the editor raved over it.  Just because on editor rejects it doesn’t mean the next one might fall in love with it.  Maybe the rejecting editor had a bad night or is hung-over.  They’re only human and usually have a monster slush pile to work on.  (They need to be hooked in the first sentence or two.)  I usually submit a story about six times (different markets) before I revise it.  I submit to a theory by Lawrence Block on revising.  Revising takes the “freshness” from a story.  His book Telling Lies For Fun and Profit is a great guide for the short story business.
You’ve lived in a number of places.  One was Missouri, the other rural Florida.  How have these places influenced your writing?  Has living in Florida changed your writing in anyway?  I don’t think so.  It just gives me a broader area to choose characters and places.  Sitting in front of a computer is sitting in front of a computer, regardless of what’s outside the window.
Your short stories are often both humorous and poignant with unusual endings.  Where do you get your ideas?  Can you compare your writing to any other authors’?  If I am influenced by any other author, it might be Robert Parker.  I love his simple sentence structure and short, terse answers to questions.  Where I get my ideas could be a whole other book.  Ideas can’t be taught.  They come from everywhere around you.  If you aren’t paying attention to the world around you, ideas are gonna be darn tough to come by.
Pretend I am your literary fairy godmother.  What three wishes related to writing would you like me to grant you?   Only one.  A muse that never takes a vacation.  Everything else should take care of itself.
When you write do you use incidents from your past to create your stories?  If so, do you usually write from the difficult times or from your happy moments?  Yes, of course I use incidents from my past.  That’s a whole warehouse of ideas.  If you put difficult times to happy times on a 1 to 10 scale, I have hit every number, although happy or quirky usually wins.  If I wrote a story that makes me laugh or cry, I think I’ve done well.
Would you ever like to write a novel length story?  If so, what do you imagine this story to be about?  Mainstream fiction, adventure, suspense, mystery?  I have written novel length stories.  Eight of them, I think.  All mysteries.  Nothing published.
It’s probably true that readers know more about authors who write novel length fiction, but since you write short stories, can you tell us who among the writers of short stories you most admire and why?  There is a writer who lives, writes and teaches writing in Mississippi.  His name is John Floyd.  He has four or five collections of his short stories published.  Also he publishes, repeatedly, in magazines where I aspire to be published.  .It almost seems like he has his own monthly column in some magazines.
Who and what do you read?  Oh, my.  No set person, no set genre.  If I start a story or novel and it hooks me on the first page, I read it—mystery, romance, literary.  If it’s to my liking, I read it.  I do like Harlan Cobin’s mystery novels and most of Grisham’s.
Where do your characters come from?  Do you take any from your own life?  I take many on them from my past, but many of them may just come from someone I meet or happen to observe.  One time, I overheard a truck driver in a truck stop restaurant.  He was ranting about his co-driver.  Turned into a good short story. 
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?  No specific time.  I actually did win a short story contest when I was ten years old, and that was many moons ago.  I’ve always had ideas about writing something and really only had the time to pursue them after I retired.
Writers often say they love writing, but hate promoting themselves.  How do you feel about this?  Give an idea of what you do to promote yourself.  I have to be in the bottom 1% of self-promotion.  It’s kind of like when I was in the business of buying and selling.  (Ex.  American Pickers on the History Channel.)   Selling was a necessary evil so I could go out and buy more.  Buying, negotiating, and hunting were the best part of that business.  Writing is the best part of this business, but if I don’t sell, I just end up with a giant bunch of files in my computer.  I usually self promote if someone asks me to—like right now.  Thanks for the opportunity, Lesley.
The ebook revolution seems to be upon us.  How do you see ebooks in your writing life?   I really don’t see them as having much of an impact on me.  The books I have published are out as ebooks, but they do worse than the hard copies, maybe one ebook to fifteen hardcopies.
Thanks for joining us, Gary.
So all you novel length writers out there, have you ever tried your hand at short stories?  How do you like writing short?


  1. I've turned out and published my share of short stories. It's not for everyone, but I enjoy the format. Interesting interview. I like Gary's attitude on marketing--keep submitting. I also share his admiration of John Floyd.

  2. Good questions, Lesley, and fine answers, Gary. I like your attitude about criticism and rejection: develop a thick skin, and keep those stories out in the mail (or email). No wonder you have such a good track record.

  3. I also write short stories (and novels and plays). I let my story dictate the form and length it will take. I have a linked set of short stories I'm going to submit this summer as an anthology. There seems to be a bias against short stories (in book length publishing). But Gary's can-do/will do attitude convinced me to keep trying.

  4. Writing and trying to get published is not for those of overly sensitive psyche. Maybethat's why I didn't try it when I was younger and took things to heart too easily. Gary is right--keep on trying.

  5. Thank you for this interview, Lesley and Gary. I also write and submit short stories from time to time-- feel very dejected when my stories are rejected, and, of course, elated when they are accepeted.

    I especially loved the unusual questions you posed, Lesley. I may have to borrow some!

  6. This was a great interview Gary and Lesley. I'm just starting to dabble in short stories so this was terrific. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. I didn't know I loved short stories until I submitted the very first one I wrote to Sleuthfest Short Story contest and won first place! Sometimes in the middle of writing a novel length mystery, I take a break and write a short story. It revives me creatively.

  8. Hi, Gary,

    A very interesting interview! You have an impressive list of published short stories. It's also great that the interviewer is familiar with your work.

    Have you tried Five Star/Gale for your mystery novels? They've published a number of mine and I don't have an agent to sell my work.

  9. After 40 plus years at writing novels, I only in the last decade got serious about short stories, and found I love doing them. But my e-book experience is exactly opposite of yours, Gary, maybe 90% of my sales are in e-format - of course, the royalties on short stories done as e-book isn't very much. I was recently astonished to read that I was one of Untreed Reads best selling authors, since my royalty checks from them are miniscule - but of course, you don't make much off a ninety nine cent book. Nice interview.

  10. Great questions and answers and interesting comments. I just finished a novel and am now inspired to take a break by writing a short story after reading this post. I enjoy writing short and there is a contest I have been wanting to write for--deadline looming.

  11. Excellent interview. Lots of good info. I'm a fan of Gary's work.

  12. Gary thanks all of you for your comments, support and input.
    Right now I'm on the road just traveling back north from Florida. I have a novel length manuscript to work on, but I've also been offered a spot in an anthology of short stories, so it looks like I'll take a little break and get that one out soon.

  13. Great interview, Lesley and Gary. Good questions and intelligent, sensible answers. I send out short stories and memoir pieces -- love writing them and, of course, seeing them get published. Lots of rejections in my writing life, but c'est la vie! We must keep writing, no matter what.

    Have a safe trip back north, Lesley, and an easy transition once back in your other home.


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