the write stuff: A chat with Tim Johnston, author and editor of Short Story America

By William Laney

Born and raised the son of a private school headmaster, it was logical that Tim Johnston would follow his father’s footsteps and become an educator after his graduation with an English Major from Davidson College and a Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Antioch University. It was in college that he fell in love with his favorite form of literature — the short story.

After more than a decade spent teaching in Pittsburgh, Miami and Atlanta, Tim fell in love with his future wife, Stacey, while teaching World Literature at Atlanta’s Pace Academy.  Stacey was fresh out of Emory Medical School and had decided to teach science there for a couple of years before taking her residency.

The Johnston Family, from left, Brooke, baby Nick, Tim, Stacey and Taylor.
The Johnston Family, from left, Brooke, baby Nick, Tim, Stacey and Taylor.

Their marriage resulted in  two wonderful twin daughters Brooke and Taylor, age 10, who are now at Coosa Elementary, and a son Nicholas, just 5 months.

Dr. Stacey Johnston has enjoyed her job as director of the hospitality program at Beaufort Memorial Hospital for the past four years. Tim was head of school at Beaufort Academy from 2004-2009 and oversaw a major growth period at the school both enrollment and building wise. Says Tim, “It was rewarding to oversee so much healthy growth, and to see more students applying to colleges all over the U.S.”

Tim left Beaufort Academy to lay groundwork for his long-held dream of founding a short story publishing house. The result: Short Story America is heading towards its fourth anniversary of successful event and publishing growth.  Occurring this weekend is the annual festival and conference here in Beaufort (please see the article on page 19 for details).

Besides writing short fiction himself, Tim is the editor of the “Short Story America” series, now international with authors from around the U.S. and the world. To date, he has published three large volumes of short stories, totaling 138 stories since inception in early 2010. Says Tim, “We’re also publishing a terrific book of short stories by the great author Richard Hawley, who will be here for the Short Story America Festival this weekend.”

How does Tim accomplish all this and still manage to raise a young family? His wife Stacey says, “Patience and laughter are the core of how he is with our children, from getting them ready for school each morning and taking them to all of their activities to teaching them how to be the best they can be, all the while continuing to move forward with Short Story America.”

She adds, “I am amazed that each year he attracts so many great authors and their stories to Short Story America, and that he can pull off a fabulous story festival right here in Beaufort without a whole lot of financial resources, and that he is solely doing this to expand the base of short-story lovers. There so many people in the literary world who only discovered Beaufort because of the festival.”

Regarding their choice to move to Beaufort, Tim admits, “Neither of us had ever lived in a small town (Stacey is from Cincinnati, Ohio, while I was raised in Durham, N.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa.), but we decided that we would move here and try out this kind of living. We’re glad we did. There is a quality of living here that fills up the soul. We’re very happy here.”

As for the future, Tim’s first collection of short stories that he has authored is coming out early next year. It’s titled “Between the Dead and the Sleeping” and there will be a launch party in Beaufort in January.  His short story “Friday Afternoon” has been optioned for development.

Says Tim, “When I became an English teacher at the high school level, I knew that the key to turning students into lifelong readers was to show them how great and important that stories are, that stories have something to do with them and society. Stories that can be read and absorbed in one sitting provide a tremendous opportunity for educators to reach every kid. Great short stories entertain. They matter to the soul of the reader, and offer so many interesting writing and discussion opportunities. That’s why I began writing stories in addition to teaching them in school.”

His stories may be short but let’s hope we’ll be hearing from this exceptional talent for a long, long time.

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