John M. Floyd is a master of the tight, twisty tale that many people associate with Alfred Hitchcock. In this latest edition of How’d That Happen, John explains how his background and his imagination dovetailed in his story “The Long Branch,” appearing in our January/February 2013 issue. John’s stories have been collected in Rainbow’s End and Other Stories and Midnight, both published by Dogwood Press.
Back when I was working for a living, I spent a lot of my time in banks. Matter of fact, I spent almost all of my time in banks. For most of my thirty years with IBM, I was what was called an “industry specialist,” and my industry was finance. Specifically, financial software applications, which meant I worked with our clients to develop and install programs for their ATMs, check processing equipment, teller stations, etc. (Our clients used to be called customers; they morphed into clients at about the same time I morphed from systems engineer into industry specialist—but that’s another story.)
Since I started writing before I stopped working, I usually spent part of my “working” time daydreaming about story ideas. And since most of my stories involve criminal activity, I often found myself studying the bank’s employees and the bank’s customers from the viewpoint of a mystery writer, and asking myself all kinds of sneaky questions. What if that guy who loads cash into the ATM decides to do some unloading instead? What if that slip of paper handed to the branch manager is a demand for an unauthorized withdrawal of funds? What if the magnetic ink encoding on that check is fake, or altered? What if the guy with the combination to the vault owes money to the mob? What’s up with that shifty-looking guy in the teller line?
Or, in the case of my latest AHMM story (“The Long Branch,” in the January/February issue), that ordinary-looking guy in the teller line. Especially when another customer suddenly grabs him, pins his arms, and asks the lady behind him to remove the gun in his pocket. So begins a tale of deceit and betrayal, and at its core is not a detective or a security guard or an industry specialist; the protagonist here is a lowly management trainee, an underpaid and undermotivated guy who longs for a better life and a warmer climate. With the help of one of the young tellers, he finds that he’s the only one around to deal with the crisis—and the crisis somehow keeps changing, from one minute to the next.
To me, this changing of the plot, the constant reversals that (hopefully) keep the reader guessing and in suspense, is one of the great rewards of reading and writing mystery/crime stories. I believe it was Aristotle who said the best kind of plot contains surprises, and Linda Landrigan told me years ago that she bought one of my stories not because of its twist ending but because it had a double-twist ending, one that offered not one surprise but two.
This story does the same kind of thing. I hope readers will enjoy it.
10 responses to “HIGH FINANCE: John M. Floyd”
Great post, John. I’m trying to do that more and more in my stories–going for the surprises and twists. I just downloaded the issue your story is in to my Kindle. Can’t wait to read it.
Sounds terrific, John. You are a master storyteller.
Double twist ending? Sounds awesome! I read your Chunky Jones stories in Woman’s World and love them. Congrats on this story.
Nice article John, about an excellent story. Bravo!
John, it’s always interesting to see how a writer’s mind works, especially yours when it comes to creating stories.
John, I can imagine you at your desk quietly scoping the crowd. Very glad you’ve had the chance to use those ideas in your stories–and now I’m off to download the issue.
When I started reading your story, I was skeptical. I figured it was a set up. Which of course it was. Through subtlety, you cleverly led us to believe that the Long Branch had been robbed. And then it wasn’t. Well, guess what? Your next trick was even better. It was a scam to make the Bank Manager look bad. Only, it turns out everybody, including the bank investigator, were caught off guard. There was an actual robbery. Not surprising to those of us who were paying attention. We knew there was no one in the rest room. But you sort of let us know that. You clued us in all the way. Good writing. Your ending is a real treat. Which I will not reveal, because your other fans need to read it for themselves. Yours truly, Toe.
John, I loved the story and enjoyed getting a glimpse into its origins. When I’m reading one of your stories, I always feel clever because I’ve figured out part of it–but then I feel not-so-clever because I didn’t figure out all of it. My favorite mysteries are the ones that leave me saying, “Darn! I should’ve noticed that!”
Since I spent many, many hours with you in those banks, we had to do something to remain sane, huh? Purple cars, etc. Love you my friend, you are the best.
John, it sounds like a fantastic story. Going to buy the ebook copy right now. Congrats.