New Essay: The Washington Literary Inferiority Complex

Why do the great novels of our age emerge from New York and not DC? Washington is the capital of the country, except when it comes to fiction-writing.

I examine these questions in The Washington Literary Inferiority Complex, recently published by nthWORD Shorts. I think it’s time for the Great Washington Novel.

"The Happiest Man in Washington" Published in eFiction Magazine

My short story, “The Happiest Man in Washington” has been published in eFiction Magazine. You can read it below. If you roll over the pages, you’ll see backward and forward arrows. Click on the page and it will become a full-screen view.

This story was inspired by a homeless man I used to see daily at 17th and Rhode Island in DC. He was a neighborhood fixture, a happy face greeting commuters every morning. I wondered how he got there and if he ever thought about leaving the streets.

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Like this? Read more of my short fiction and my novel, Murder in Ocean Hall.

(For you WordPress geeks, eFiction is a magazine that was created using Issuu. You can embed and customize the viewer.  I used the Issuu “customize and embed” tool to get the code to paste into my site. I made the embedded viewer one page across (instead of two) and to start on p.67, where my story is, rather than at the beginning of the magazine. The WP Issuu plugin was also necessary to make all this work. It’s not difficult.)

"The City of the Dead" Published in Digital Americana

Digital Americana july coverIn the age of the e-book, how will readers discover new authors? One possible way might be through journals like Digital Americana, the world’s first literary magazine for tablets. It’s like Esquire or The New Yorker but on an iPad.

And they just published my short story, “The City of the Dead.” My story is about a former Senator’s efforts to right a wrong in sunny Florida, as seen from the perspective of his imperious Egyptian wife.

Digital Americana is a gorgeous multimedia reading experience, featuring over 80 pages of fiction, poetry, interviews, book reviews, music videos and beautiful photos all in a format that you can scroll through on an iPad or iPhone. I’m biased, of course, but it’s one of the prettiest magazines I’ve ever seen.

To read “The City of the Dead”, buy the Digital Americana app for your iPad or iPhone. It costs all of 99 cents and includes the July Freedom issue. My story is on page 44.

Three Upcoming Short Stories

Over the past few days, I’ve learned that three different short stories of mine will appear in three different online literary journals. Yea!

All of these stories are set in DC, at least in part, and feature the “beyond the monuments” knowledge of the city that I used in Murder in Ocean Hall. The three stories are all a little different:

The Really Real World – this is a dark and funny satire about the dangerous pursuit of fame. And, yes, the MTV series is involved.

The Happiest Man in Washington – I’m pretty much a realist, when it comes to fiction, but this is my attempt to write a parable like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (an essential read for every artist).

City of the Dead – inspired by a friend’s trip to Egypt, this is a story about mortality and the limits of American power.

Look for all three of these short stories soon! Follow me on @joeflood and I’ll tweet when and where they’re published, as well as update this blog.

 

Cheating at Golf Published in Story Bleed Magazine

The Great Recession has changed the lives of millions. Jobs have been lost, people have been kicked out of their homes, retirement nest eggs have disappeared. Worse than the economic damage, however, has been the loss of hope in the future. Optimism has been replaced by worry and fear.

Which is what my short story, Cheating at Golf, is all about. Published in Story Bleed Magazine, an online literary journal, this is a dark tale set in sunny Florida. In it, an escape to a golf course brings no relief to a man’s troubles.

 

Boom and Bust Published in SPLIT

split logoMy short story Boom and Bust has been published in the online literary journal SPLIT. Boom and Bust is a satire, told from the perspective of a self-deluded marketing consultant. Obsessed by money and status, my narrator represents all that’s wrong with America these days. In my story, he’s helping an evil CEO escape the wrath of shareholders.

SPLIT is a new online magazine designed to showcase emerging talent in the art of storytelling. “Spill” is the theme of the second issue of the magazine. SPLIT features poetry, photography, a novel excerpt and even a short film.

Boom and Bust is part of a novel that I’ve been working on. Check out the further adventures of my consulting friend in the short story, Don’t Mess Up My Block.

WikiLeaks and Absurdistan

absurdistan_coverOne of my favorite novels of the past few years is Absurdistan. This comic romp by Gary Shteyngart takes place in a degraded post-Soviet world, where all anyone cares about is making money. The book is narrated by Misha Vainberg who dreams of returning to New York, where he was a student. Though a Russian heir to a fortune, he considers himself a lost American, trapped in corrupt country.

To get back to the United States (and the love of his life), he travels to the Caucasus republic of Absurdistan. He hopes to get a visa there. Along the way he joins in epic bouts of drinking and conspicuous consumption, as the nouveau rich show off their wealth with huge bounties of caviar, vodka and prostitutes.

This is fiction, or so I always thought, the invention of a very funny writer. But then I read the WikiLeaks cable on the wild wedding in Dagestan, Russia. It’s like the world of Absurdistan come to life, featuring a rich cast of characters frolicking along the shores of the Caspian Sea. The cable even has the perfect blurb for the back of a paperback:

The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, ethnicity, clan, and alliance.

Continue reading “WikiLeaks and Absurdistan”

Two Novels by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s a brilliant choice. Unlike some of the Nobel committee’s more dubious awards, Vargas Llosa is a storyteller with an important message to share. Moreover, he is not some stuffy academic – he’s been actively engaged in the world, a voice for moderation in fanatical times.

And most importantly, his books are a joy to read. He’s frequently compared to another South American, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in 1982. Both writers are part of the Latin American Boom. While many American writers retreated into the minimalism of Raymond Carver, the Boom authors wrote sprawling, worldly, intensely entertaining works that hovered on the edge of reality. The multi-generational saga of the doomed Buendias in One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example of Boom fiction.

Two great books show the incredibly range of Vargas Llosa.

Aunt Julia and the Script Writer is a deranged masterpiece, a comic coming of age story about young Mario, who has fallen in love with his sexy aunt. Interleaved with this story are the tales of a Bolivian script writer, who has enthralled Lima with his radio soap operas. The book grows progressively more absurd and surreal, as the comic inventions of the script writer lead to real-world chaos.

A reviewer on Amazon referred to The War of the End of the World as “Macondo meets Jonestown”. That’s an apt description of this epic novel, based upon real events. Set in Brazil in the 19th century, the book is centered on Canudos, a religious cult that essentially secedes from the rest of the country. It becomes a safe haven from oppression, until the army decides to wipe them out.

What makes Vargas Llosa’s work so appealing to me is his concern for individuals, not mass movements. He’s been an a foe of dictators, whether they be Fidel Castro or Alberto Fujimori (who he ran against in 1990). Suspicious of ideology, he was lauded by the Nobel committee for:

“his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

Would Self-Publishing Have Saved John Kennedy Toole?

A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books. In this picaresque novel, John Kennedy Toole creates a vivid and hilarious world, the French Quarter of the 1960s, and populates it with unforgettable characters and fantastic scenes. His protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, perhaps the first slacker in American literature. He disdains work and the modern world, longing for the Middle Ages when his genius would be appreciated.

I read A Confederacy of Dunces in college and loved it from the very first pages. It’s a broad comedy, expertly told by someone who clearly knows every inch of his beloved New Orleans. Moreover, Toole was familiar with the slang and patois of the city’s residents. He portrays them as corrupt, flawed, confused – but always well-meaning, in their own way. Continue reading “Would Self-Publishing Have Saved John Kennedy Toole?”