How to Write a Short Story

I recently had the opportunity to talk about how to write a short story before a virtual class of high school kids. I discussed where ideas come from, the two types of short stories, how to get started and how to edit your own work.

In my talk, I used examples from my own short stories, including my book LIKES and the award-winning Apartment 101.

I put the presentation on SlideShare. Feel free to share!

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New article: Seven Reasons to Join a Photo Collective

Tap city on 4th St

Sweating and gulping beer, I watched Steph tap dance in a nearly empty apartment building on the edge of downtown DC. The structure was going to be gutted and gentrified but first one last party on a steamy summer evening. No need to worry about the neighbors because there were no neighbors – everyone else in the building had moved out.

And I owe it all to photography. I met Steph through InstagramDC, a community for photographers in Washington, DC. We get together for instameets, happy hours and other events – it’s a photo collective.

Which is why I wrote Seven Reasons to Join a Photo Collective for Submittable.

Through a collective like InstagramDC you can expand your skills, pool talents and, most importantly, meet new people. If you’re creative, inspiration comes from new experiences, such as watching a friend tap dance on a sweaty evening in an abandoned building.

Published! Five Tips for a Better Weather Photo

cyclist on P St

I have a new article in The Washington Post – Five Tips for a Better Weather Photo!

In this listicle for the Capital Weather Gang, I share my tips for creating a good weather photo. It’s about composition, knowing your camera, including people, getting out of the car and telling a weather story.

The photo editor included lots of bike photos – that’s what I’m known for as a photographer. A bike is also how I get around the city and am able to capture so much interesting imagery.

I’m a huge Capital Weather Gang fan. It’s the best part of the paper, IMHO. I was glad to share my knowledge with their readers.

Relive election night with my short story Victory Party

In my short story Victory Party, which won the City Paper Fiction Competition, I portray a Washington shocked by the Trump victory – and one person who’s happy about the result.

Election 2016 was an event that traumatized the American psyche. I wasn’t the only person who processed this horror through fiction. A majority of the submissions to the City Paper contest concerned Trump, as I learned during a reading at Kramerbooks.

I assumed the worst was over. A horrible punch to the gut but then life in Washington would resume along the contours of previous experience. Trump would rise to the occasion and become a normal Republican like Bush.

I was wrong. Realized it during his American Carnage inauguration speech. Everything went downhill from there, a year of outrages culminating in the firing of James Comey. Now, we’ll be lucky to survive 2017 without Trump kicking off war on the Korean peninsula.

During the year, I wrote a novel – The Swamp. My fictional depiction of the Obama era seems quaint. The book presents a scenario I thought outlandish, in which a political groundswell demands that the nation’s capital be moved out of DC. Out of Washington, I called it. But this fictional future reads like a best-case scenario now.

Thinking back on my short story, Victory Party, what would my protagonist make of the past year? My ex-con Randy was happy, the Trump victory representing revenge upon the elite class, through he’s wise enough to know it won’t last. One year later, it hasn’t, and I imagine him trying to stay honorable in very dishonorable times.

We write to make sense of our times, trying to impose narrative on chaos. Washington wrote following the Trump victory. Washington continues to write as the nation unravels.


Coming Soon – THE SWAMP

When an errant drone crashes into the White House, it triggers a chain of events that leads to the end of the country as we know it.

Welcome to THE SWAMP, my new novel mocks the city that America has come to hate.

THE SWAMP begins on Christmas Eve, when a drone crash causes a security scare at the White House. Fox News screams, “How can we keep the President safe?” A crackpot idea from a cynical TV correspondent – let’s move the nation’s capital to an underground bunker – becomes an uncontrollable political movement. Can the President and the rest of official Washington contain this red state rebellion or will it swamp them all?

From mommy bloggers to scheming bureaucrats, THE SWAMP is a love letter to this city – and a wish for its destruction – packaged together in a black comedy reminiscent of Christopher Buckley and Evelyn Waugh.

Read the first chapter to get a taste of THE SWAMP.

Murder in Ocean Hall – Free on Kindle! Black Friday Special!

Murder in Ocean HallBlack Friday Special!

Why wait in line to buy some giant piece of electronics that you don’t need? Instead, stay at home and download my novel Murder in Ocean Hall for free on the Kindle.

Starting at the Smithsonian, the book is a tour of DC that one reviewer called, “A profile of the nation’s capital city from the inside out.” Another reviewer said Murder in Ocean Hall was, “A thoughtful and discerning first novel by an author with something to say.” Another said, “Joe Flood is a find.” (That was my favorite.)

And look for a sequel to this book coming next year!

Books, Blogs and Biking: The Year in Writing

While I did all sort of fascinating freelance work in 2012, I couldn’t survive another year like that. Thankfully, 2013 was different as I settled into a job as  Communications Manager for government. This meant regular paychecks, but less time for writing, which is exactly what I needed.

The Wallace Line coverDespite this, I still managed to do some interesting work. The big news from 2013 was the publication of The Wallace Line. My short story of a fundraising trip that goes horribly wrong was a finalist for the Nelson Algren Award. It was beautifully printed as a custom booklet that appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row. And I got $1000, the most I’ve ever made in literary fiction.

But what made the experience invaluable was the opportunity to work with top editors from the Tribune. Seeing how closely they edited my short story was instructive. I learned a lot watching them. Their editorial diligence demonstrated how you edit fiction.

I blogged all year long, on and other sites. I did a couple a guest posts for Digital Book Today, blogging about how reading novels is good for you and that coffee shops are ideal for writing. And I wrote about government communications at GovLoop with posts on storytelling and Steve Jobs for govies.

Coffeeneuring (where you bike to seven coffee shops over seven weekends) became an obsession, combining my love of writing, photography and cycling into one irresistible package. I blogged a lot about biking, including the memorable moment WABA Ambassador Pete Beers gently educated a driver about not running him over.

In March, I was on a DC Shorts Mentors panel on screenwriting, discussing my work as a judge for this film festival and my award-winning screenplay Mount Pleasant. I also worked on a screenplay adaptation of my novel Don’t Mess Up My Block – I’m not sure it’s ready for prime-time. And in May, I got to judge the AU Visions contest once again.

DC Shorts (now in its tenth year!) returned in September, and I provided my advice on where to eat, drink and chill in the Penn Quarter during the festival, as well as the best films to watch online. One of the great things about DC Shorts is its screenplay competition. The winner, Five Days in Calcutta, was selected after a live reading at the Atlas Theater. Look for it next year at DC Shorts.

What’s next? I’m working on another novel! Murder on U Street examines Washington’s art scene, as Detective Jefferson investigates a suspicious death at a hip gallery. It’s a sequel to Murder in Ocean Hall. Look for it later this year.

Guest Blog on Digital Book Today: Reading Novels is Good for You

I have a guest post on Digital Book Today on how reading novels is good for you. Novels teach essential skills, such as concentration, careful reading (not skimming web pages) and the ability to frame and express a story. Novels are more than just entertainment. Immersing yourself in words on a regular basis will improve your writing ability, something that is vital for business success. You’d be surprised at the number of college grads I’ve met that can’t write a sentence. Being able to craft blog posts, articles, reports and other kinds of communication is a way to differentiate yourself from your ADD-afflicted peers.

Digital Book Today was founded by a book industry veteran. Its mission is to help readers find new authors in the digital world. It focuses on e-books and provides a great list of free new e-books every week.

V/H/S: A Horror Flick for the YouTube Generation

vhsIn the latest issue of On Tap, I have an article on V/H/S, a new horror anthology that opens this week. In this bloody collection of short films, a group of thieves come across a stack of mysterious videocassettes, each more disturbing than the last.

Lots o’ blood, gore, genital removal, sex, nudity, impaling, screaming, running and shakycam. But if you’re into that kind of thing, then this is the movie for you.

I screened the movie on a laptop and had the chance to interview Joe Swanberg, one of the directors of V/H/S. His short film is pretty interesting – it’s a horror flick told by Skype, where you watch a guy and his girlfriend chat online, as things steadily go wrong. Directing two actors who were both on the screen for the entire movie was a real challenge, according to Swanberg.

It’s always interesting talking to directors – Swanberg shared the thrill of seeing his flick on the screen at Sundance. When he heard the shocked gasps of 800 people in a theater, he knew he had succeeded.