By Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer
T.D. Johnston, better known in Beaufort as Tim Johnston, has brought a unique concept to the heart of the Lowcountry, yet one that is classic and is spreading far beyond the spartina grass and rising tides of coastal South Carolina.
Johnston is the editor of “Short Story America,” an anthology of 56 contemporary short stories. The inaugural first edition will be released at a launch party on Friday, June 24 from 6-8 p.m. at Lowcountry Winery on Bay Street. Guests will have the opportunity to meet Johnston, who wrote four of the book’s stories, as well as local author Gail Westerfield, New Jersey author Guy Tirondola, and North Carolina writer Dawn Allison. All will sign copies of the popular hardback book. Beaufort’s Warren Slesinger, who next year will have two stories in Volume II, also plans to be on hand at the event.
Tim Johnston created a worldwide publishing company that is located in Beaufort’s Town Center. He sensed an international demand to bring the short story back to life. So, that’s exactly what he did.
Two years ago, Johnston started www.shortstoryamerica.com, which publishes new and classic stories online. He began the search for contemporary short stories from famed and unknown authors. Each week, SSA publishes a new short story online, which then becomes printed material in the new anthology series. Last year, Short Story America received 5,000 story submissions from authors around the U.S and the world. Fifty-six were selected for Volume I.
The short story is a nearly-forgotten art form, but one that yields terrific recollections of childhood, high school, college and the introduction to fine literature. The classics from Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louisa May Alcott, Joseph Conrad, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Washington Irving, to name just a few, were inscribed into my perpetual memory throughout my education. As a student, I remember learning to appreciate the value of well-written prose. I enjoyed the intriguing short story, because, well, it was short and entertaining. I was a kid. I perceived twenty minutes as several hours.
A good short story introduces characters and theme and conflict very quickly. And a talented author can develop all three seamlessly, while captivating readers with descriptive writing and great dialogue.
I read one of Johnston’s stories just last night. “Friday Afternoon” is one of those stories that captures the curious mind while evaluating good and evil. It hooked me, line and sinker, and I loved it! Even better, I finished the tale before my friend finished an episode of “The Bachelorette.” Reading a great story start to finish in one sitting, and then finding oneself thinking about that story the next day, is a great experience, and that’s what I got from “Friday Afternoon.”
“Friday Afternoon” has gotten a lot of online response and praise from readers and reviewers, and has been called a masterpiece by many in the field. In fact, award-winning producer Mark L. Hunt has optioned Johnston’s story to either be used as a feature film or part of a non-episodic series, similar to the eclectic and popular Twilight Zone. Many readers have compared Johnston’s work to Rod Serling’s stories, and his well-received story “The Errand,” which is also in this book, has been compared to the work of the late Raymond Carver. That is why Hunt, the producer whose classic music documentary “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music” earned a Grammy nomination, is now working with Johnston on three different projects, all written by Johnston. The two are co-adapting “Friday Afternoon” via Skype to communicate ideas and co-write the screenplay using Final Draft software.
What is so ironic about the use of modern technology for the promotion of “Short Story America” is the fact that technology created the decline of the short story. F. Scott Fitzgerald made a ton of money penning classic short stories. He was one of the best and most famed authors of his time. But television, internet, smart phones and video games have trumped the popularity of the timeless masterpieces of short fiction.
So Johnston brainstormed and realized, “Let’s bring the short story to the reader’s fingertips.” On the website, www.shortstoryamerica.com, visitors enjoy stories from contemporary and classic libraries. In addition, each week readers are treated to yet another short story, handpicked by Johnston and co-editor Sarah Turocy from hundreds across the country and the world.
The first volume of short stories is presented in hardback with patriotic capitalism supporting its release, meaning, it is made in the USA. Johnston believes that American companies should not make products overseas that can be made in America by Americans who need their jobs. “Many companies talk the talk about patriotism and loyalty to fellow citizens, but then ship jobs overseas by making products outside of the U.S. that could be made here. We had the chance to have our books printed in China for less money, and we said an emphatic ‘no.’ We are Short Story America, and our short stories will be printed in this country for as long as we might be lucky enough to exist. That’s more important than making a few extra dollars, or even a lot of extra dollars.”
Even the book’s design and manufacturing was handled locally, by Hilton Head’s Lydia Inglett. Additionally, audio versions of the short stories are being developed by Jeff Evans and Mark Shaffer, right here in Beaufort. Members of the website will have the opportunity to purchase MP3’s of the short stories for $1.49. Another great way to experience short stories, much like we do music.
Johnston is also using a local vendor to ship the books (which are signed by Johnston as first editions), and local web designer, Steve Thompson of PC Web Services, maintains www.shortstoryamerica.com.
Another local investment that Johnston and co-editor Sarah Turocy will bring to the area is the inaugural Short Story America Story Festival, coming to Beaufort June 21-24, 2012. The festival will attract acclaimed authors and fans, educators and students. Beaufort will be the destination of this festival series, putting our beloved Lowcountry on the literary map with these celebrations of great short literature.
Johnston is fulfilling many pre-orders of the book. He is also in the process of sending copies to Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today and The LA Times as well as syndicates, like Thomas Fortenberry (who has already praised Short Story America) for literary reviews. Writer’s Digest has already rated www.ShortStoryAmerica.com as one of the Fifty Best Online Literary Magazines in the world.
T.D. (Tim) Johnston wants to bring short stories back into the hearts and souls of Americans. We, as Americans, are innately fascinated with pop culture, so that’s how he is delivering his passion for fine literature — through the use of modern technology.
“Short Story America” is exciting for Beaufort. Reviews and praise from world-renowned critics and submissions from talented authors are funneling through cyberspace to Suite 204 in Beaufort Town Center as we speak. We are in the midst of a rebirth of an art form, and it’s happening in our own backyard. Thank you, Tim Johnston, for revitalizing the short story.
If you cannot attend the launch and book signing, and want to order the book directly from Short Story America, signed by Tim Johnston, go to www.shortstoryamerica.com, or contact Short Story America at 843-524-7800. You can also get the book at Beaufort Bookstore, McIntosh Books, Berry Island Café, Lowcountry Winery, The Gallery on Bay Street, and other locations.
The mission of Short Story America is to bring the short story back into the mainstream of American culture, to bring the short story author back to prominence in literature and to enhance American students’ awareness and education in the art and value of the short story.
“Witness the renaissance within the pages of Short Story America. New life to literature! These stories are food for the famished souls of today’s readers.”
-Thomas Fortenberry, author, editor and former judge of The Georgia Author of the Year Awards and The Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction
“Short Story America is like opening a window on a blooming spring garden following a long cold winter. I’ve been deeply impressed by the quality and diversity of the fictional voices found on this glorious site, as this first anthology so splendidly reveals. Here’s to a long life and much more to come from the current and future voices of Short Story America.”
-Jim Dodson, editor, Pinestraw and O. Henry magazines, and bestselling author of Final Rounds and Faithful Travelers