Coffeeneuring #1: Peet’s!

First #coffeeneuring trip of 2014 #bikedc
Dark roast coffee with my bike and the L Street cycletrack in the background.

Coffeeneuring 1: Peet’s (17th and L)
Date: October 4, 2014
Distance: Five miles

Coffeeneuring has returned! The rules are simple – bike to seven different coffee shops by November 16. Check out Chasing Mailboxes for all the details of this coffee-fueled, bike adventure.

For my first coffeeneuring trip, I took my Specialized Sirrus to the Peet’s at 17th and L NW in Washington, DC. Peet’s is a coffee chain from Berkeley that recently replaced all the Caribou Coffees in DC.

I’m a firm believer in feng shui. Some places have good chi energy. With its big windows and corner location, this spot has the plentiful light and ample people-watching that’s perfect for reading, writing or blogging. In fact, I wrote part of my novel Murder in Ocean Hall here when it was a Caribou.

Peet’s is an improvement. The coffee is better and the baked goods are delicious, especially the amaretto brownie.

Located on the L Street cycletrack, and with the White House just a couple blocks away, the Peet’s at 17th and L makes an ideal coffeeneuring destination. It’s also close to National Geographic and innumerable bikeshare stations.

Need more ideas where to go in DC? Check out my seven coffeeneuring trips from last year. Good luck!


Guest Post on Digital Book Today: Want to Be Productive? Get Thee to a Coffee Shop

Fueled by caffeine, surrounded by low chatter and the hum of background music, I am at my most productive. Something about being in a coffee shop just makes me want to get to work. I wrote my first novel, Murder in Ocean Hall, in a couple of downtown DC coffee shops. I prefer Caribou Coffee, particularly stores that are populated by freelancers and grad students. Being around the studious makes me feel like I better get writing.

Check out my guest post – How to Be Productive? Get Thee to a Coffee Shop – on Digital Book Today. It’s about the link between coffee shops and getting things done.

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.

Writing in Coffee Shops

Never too hot for a cappuccino!

I advocate writing in coffee shops. Not only is everything better with coffee, but the combination of caffeine and background noise is ideal for concentrating on your work.

I wrote Murder in Ocean Hall in a coffee shop. I reported every morning, as if I was going to work, and sat there writing away from 8-12, telling myself that I was not allowed to leave until my time was up.

I aimed for 2000 words a day but most of the time wrote 1100 or so. But the important thing was to be there, to be present, and to keep going.

Why are coffee shops so productive for writers? A recent New York Times article says it’s all about the background noise:

In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels.

The article goes on to profile Coffitivity, a web site that provides the sounds of a busy coffee house anywhere.

But it’s not just sound that makes coffee shops productive places. When I would report to Caribou (and I thought of it that way – reporting to work), seeing all those people all typing away on laptops made me think that I better get to work. Call it peer pressure or socialization. Seeing others work made me think that I better get to work. I better start working on that novel.

And don’t underestimate the power of caffeine. It’s not alcohol that makes writers – it’s coffee, with the cheery, well-focused buzz it gives you. Coffee houses have given birth to sprawling novels, symphonies and Western Civilization. Not bad for a simple bean.

When people ask me how to write a novel, I tell them to go to a coffee shop. My advice:

  • Pick a store populated with grad students or freelancers – you want lots of people sitting alone at tables, with a minimum of talking.
  • Slow or no wifi is a good thing, because you’re supposed to be writing.
  • Put yourself on a schedule and commit to it.
  • Reward yourself with as much coffee as you want.

Habit is a powerful thing. If you spend one hour a day writing, imagine how much you could accomplish in a year. Plus, you get to drink coffee. Writing and drinking coffee – is there any better way to spend your time?

The Wallace Line Selected as Nelson Algren Finalist

My short story “The Wallace Line,” has been selected as a finalist in the 2013 Nelson Algren Awards sponsored by The Chicago Tribune.

I was one of four finalists selected out of more than 1,000 writers. I get $1000 – more than I’ve ever made in a lifetime of literary work – and “The Wallace Line” will be published in a special supplement later this summer by the Tribune. As someone who grew up reading the Trib in the suburbs of Chicago, this is a huge honor.

“The Wallace Line” is about a Nature Conservancy manager who takes a wealthy donor to the island of Komodo – and then things go horribly wrong. Here’s a sample:

Harold marveled at how quickly it had all gone to shit.

The approach to the beach had been perfect, as Anak expertly guided the longboat over the swell. Behind them, the sun climbed above the tranquil waters of the Flores Sea. Ahead, the pink sands of Komodo were radiant in the morning light. A warm breeze blew across the boat. January in Indonesia, when it was hot but not too hot, and while the East Coast of America was locked in ice.

A moment you could not forget, and would be forever grateful to receive. As had been planned. These expeditions were carefully organized for maximum effect. The trip had been in the works for nearly a year. Countless emails had been exchanged; permits obtained; supplies purchased; forms filled out on onionskin paper wilting in the heat of Jakarta; signatures obtained by Directors, Department Heads, Deputies and other interested parties (with the occasional bit of friendly bribery to grease the way – nothing major – an iPhone, a bottle of bourbon, the promise to write a letter of recommendation for a nephew.)

The climax, the finale, was this grand arrival onto the mysterious island of Komodo, a lost world, a paradise that remained undiscovered by white men until 1910. One of 17,000 islands in Indonesia, this particular speck of land was the most unique of all for it was home to dragons.

Komodo dragons. A billionaire had flown halfway around the world to see them and Harold was there to provide him a show he would not forget.

I was a web editor at The Nature Conservancy for three years. While I never went to Komodo, I worked a lot with TNC’s Asia-Pacific program and have long been fascinated by Indonesia. I wrote articles, email newsletters and designed web features – all to protect places like Komodo. Conservation marketing is really interesting – it’s a mix of art (pretty pictures of animals) and science (preserving ecosystems) – which is background to my story.

“The Wallace Line” is the first chapter of an unfinished new novel. The theme is that the  borders between ideas and people are disappearing in this interconnected world.

Look for a link to “The Wallace Line”when it’s published in the Trib later this summer (follow me on Twitter if you don’t already). In the meantime, check out my other novels Murder in Ocean Hall or Don’t Mess Up My Block.

Murder in Ocean Hall – 99 Cents on Kindle

cover of Murder in Ocean HallI’ve cut the price on my novel Murder in Ocean Hall to just 99 cents on Kindle!

This murder-mystery is set in DC, but in the real city beyond the monuments. It makes a perfect gift for anyone who wants to learn more about how Washington works – or doesn’t. Murder in Ocean Hall has received a slew of five-star reviews on Amazon. It is a quick, entertaining who-dunnit filled with memorable characters and a dash of humor.

Download Murder in Ocean Hall today!

Murder in Ocean Hall – The Perfect Inauguration Gift!

cover of Murder in Ocean HallBeyond the pomp and ceremony of the Presidential Inauguration, there’s a whole other city, a real city, where people work and live in a world far removed from the ideals and monuments of the Washington you see on TV. It’s a place where ordinary folks struggle to find good schools and survive in a rapidly-changing urban environment.

It’s the world of Murder in Ocean Hall. This mystery novel takes place in city neighborhoods like Dupont Circle and U Street. In this book, the world’s most famous oceanographer is murdered. It’s up to a cynical DC detective to solve the case. Along the way, we learn about the history of city and why it works – or doesn’t work.

A reviewer wrote:

Read this book if you think you’ve been to Washington, DC. The author, Joe Flood, will take you behind the scenes of places you’ve been and tell you how they function then give you insights into people in power and how they fail to function.

Think you know Washington? Uncover what the city is really like in Murder in Ocean Hall.

Murder in Ocean Hall – The Reviews!

cover of Murder in Ocean HallI’ve received some very nice reviews of Murder in Ocean Hall. This murder-mystery set in DC seems to have struck a chord with appreciative readers. Here’s a selection of reviews from Amazon:

Joe Flood is a find! One can only hope that this is the beginning of a series. As others have noted, DC is a character in the book, and Flood has his detective consider the changes that the passing years have brought to the city. The inimitable Marion Barry is a character, as of course he should be. The other characters, both central and peripheral are quite rounded–and watching them evolve along with the unfolding of the mystery is a pleasure.

How could you write a book about DC and not include Marion Barry? And I’ve thought about making my book part of a series, but Murder in Ocean Hall literally contains everything I know about Washington.

Back to the reviews:

The time spent reading “Murder in Ocean Hall” is time well spent. I feel disinclined to share what the story is all about. Ostensibly it’s a murder mystery, but that doesn’t explain the half of it. Having hinted that there are numerous fish-to-fry in this story, suffice to say that the important characters are exceedingly well developed…

I tried to make my characters interesting, well-rounded people with their own stories to tell. I come from a background in literary fiction so I wanted to write a genre book that felt like a traditional novel. Which is perhaps why one Amazon reviewer called it “flowery and long-winded,” complaining that:

It was an OK read, but very descriptive in a lot of parts.

Guilty as charged! My version of Washington is the real city, not merely a flimsy backdrop for some far-fetched conspiracy tale.

More typical of the response to the book was this review:

Read this book if you think you’ve been to Washington, DC. The author will take you behind the scenes of places you’ve been and tell you how they function then give you insights into people in power and how they fail to function.

That’s a pretty good summary. Murder in Ocean Hall is about Washington beyond the monuments. In addition to an entertaining murder-mystery, the novel demonstrates how the city fails its residents – and the country at large.

Murder in Ocean Hall – Free for Black Friday!

cover of Murder in Ocean Hall

Murder in Ocean Hall is free for Black Friday! Normally $2.99, I’ve marked the price of the Kindle edition of my first novel down to zero.

In this murder mystery, the world’s most famous oceanographer is killed – when a whale falls from the ceiling of the Natural History Museum and crushes him. Suspects are many and it’s up to a cynical detective to solve the case. Murder in Ocean Hall draws upon my knowledge of DC beyond the monuments. Along the way, you’ll learn about the fascinating history of the city and why it works – or doesn’t.

It’s a fun, quick read that has received five-star reviews on Amazon. Download it today!

Amazon Prime Members: Use Your Free Kindle Borrow

If you have Amazon Prime, you get to borrow a Kindle book each month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Don’t let your September borrow go to waste! You have just a couple days left to use it. Both of my books are available for FREE through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverDon’t Mess Up My Block

Can you fake it til you make it?

Don’t Mess Up My Block is a parody of self-help books. This funny and cynical tale follows the adventures of Laurent Christ, a man who pursues self-improvement to its logical conclusion – he reinvents himself with a brand-new name and history. He drops a hundred pounds, shaves his head and goes on the road as a management consultant.

Everywhere he goes, comic disaster follows as companies follow his glib counsel.

cover of Murder in Ocean Hall

Murder in Ocean Hall

When the world’s most famous explorer is murdered at the Smithsonian, it’s up to a cynical Washington detective to solve the case.

Bob Fundwell dies in the Smithsonian’s Ocean Hall when the life-size replica of a whale falls from the ceiling and crushes him.

Murder in Ocean Hall is inspired by true events, including the real-life controversy over the discovery of the Titanic, as well as my two decades in Washington, DC. This fact-based murder mystery takes you behind the scenes of our nation’s dysfunctional capital, revealing the real city beyond the monuments.

Borrow one now and the other in October, when you can borrow another Kindle title!

Chat with Me on May 12 About Murder In Ocean Hall

Join me on May 12 at 3 PM for an online chat about my novel Murder in Ocean Hall. My mystery about the murder of the world’s most famous ocean explorer is the first book club selection of the Independent Author Index. This new site is a place where “readers meet authors” and is a good example of how communities are forming online to discuss books.

Looking forward to answering questions on May 12!