Novelist in Our Midst: Me

Check out the interview with me at Borderstan, a news web site that covers the Dupont-Logan area in DC. Or, rather, the border between the two areas. At one time the neighborhood was called Dupont East. Now, most people call it Logan Circle. Though less funky than it used to be, it’s still a fascinating cityscape, filled with beautiful townhomes, hip bars, art galleries and pretty much anything else a city person could need.

I like the area so much that I set much of my novel Murder in Ocean Hall here. I have the detective protagonist of the book living on the 1400 block of T Street while the murder victim lives in one of the new condos by Whole Foods. My books asks where DC has really changed for the better, from the bad old days of Marion Barry. On a beautiful spring day like today, that’s an easy question to answer.

Why I'm Not at SXSW This Year

SXSW 2007
SXSW in 2007

SXSW Interactive is an annual conference of social media and web geeks in Austin. It’s a huge, exhausting event that takes place over a long weekend in March and is popularly known as the conference that introduced Twitter and other new forms of communication.

The criticism now is that it’s gotten too big and too corporate, dominated by giant corporations trying to be hip. And that it’s gotten to be such a chaotic moshpit that it leads to network outages.

I went to SXSW in 2007 and 2008, just the right moment before it became mainstream. The conference taught me to love the brilliant minds at 37signals, whose radically hopeful ideas about the future of work cannot arrive soon enough. I learned that project management should be as simple as possible. Gantt charts and MS Project should be avoided in favor of clear goals that everyone can understand. REWORK is their vision for the ideal work environment, where meetings and busywork are eschewed in favor of collaboration and results. Their philosophy is subversive and attractive for anyone stuck in boring meetings or lengthy conference calls. Continue reading “Why I'm Not at SXSW This Year”

Murder in Ocean Hall Advances to Second Round of Amazon Contest

My novel, Murder in Ocean Hall, has advanced to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA).

ABNA is a competition sponsored by Amazon for self-published and unpublished novels. This year’s competition will award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. (I’m entered in General Fiction.)

Quarter-finalists will be announced on March 22 while we don’t find out the first place winner until June 13.

The competition is also a great way for Amazon to highlight their self-publishing tools, CreateSpace (for print books) and Kindle Direct Publishing (for e-books). They’re both easy and free to use.

Murder in Ocean Hall is a mystery set in Washington, DC. The world’s most famous oceanographer is killed at the Smithsonian. Set during the summer before the 2008 presidential election, we follow Detective Thomas across the city as he encounters the powerful and the powerless in his quest to solve this high-profile case. Thomas has grown bitter from decades of investigating bloody mayhem on city streets. Despite the new condos and gentrification, has the city really changed?

Murder in Ocean Hall is available exclusively at Amazon. The paperback is $9.99 while the Kindle e-book edition is just $2.99.

murder in ocean hall


Adventures in Book Marketing

I wrote a short piece for FlackRabbit on my adventures in book marketing. Last year, I published a book, Murder in Ocean Hall, using the awesome CreateSpace.

Why publish it myself? Because the traditional publishing model is broken and it takes a year to get a book in print, even after it’s been accepted by a publisher. Being a web person, that struck me as a crazy and unnecessarily long time.

The downside, of course, is that you have to do your own marketing. However, that’s been a good learning experience, which I write about in the FlackRabbit article.

The Perfect Gift for Mystery Lovers – Murder in Ocean Hall

Do you have someone on your Xmas list who likes a good mystery, particularly one set in Washington, DC?

Then check out my novel, Murder in Ocean Hall. In this mystery, the world’s most famous ocean explorer is killed at the Smithsonian. It’s up to a cynical DC detective to solve this high-profile case.

Murder in Ocean Hall takes place in a Washington “beyond the monuments”, in the real neighborhoods of the city that most tourists don’t see. Set during the summer before the 2008 presidential election, we follow Detective Thomas across the city as he encounters the powerful and the powerless in his quest to solve this case. He’s grown bitter from decades of investigating bloody mayhem on city streets. Despite the new condos and gentrification, has the city really changed? Or is it doomed to dysfunction?

I’ve lived in DC for almost twenty years. I know the neighborhoods, the conflicts and the personalities of this unique city. I’ve been behind the scenes at the Smithsonian and worked in the field of ocean exploration, where my murder victim comes from. The book is set in places I’ve lived in and is informed by that most universal DC experience, street crime. It features some real characters, including a brief appearance by Marion Barry (no book in DC would be complete without him).

A reviewer wrote about my book that it:

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.

Murder in Ocean Hall makes a great gift for anyone who likes a good mystery or wants to uncover the seedy underbelly of our nation’s capital.

And if you live in DC, I will even sign it for you!

Murder in Ocean Hall is available exclusively at Amazon. The paperback is only $9.99 while the Kindle edition is just $2.99.

murder in ocean hall

Behind the Scenes at the Publishing Delay

The Kindle version of my book, Murder in Ocean Hall, is now available in the UK, through

So now Kindle users in London can download my book while drinking a cuppa.

What did I have to do to get my book in the UK? Nothing – Amazon took care of it for its Digital Text Platform (DTP) authors. And DTP is free. It was easy to use – you just upload the text of your book and the cover.

With e-publishing there’s no waiting on printing presses or slow-moving publishers. An author can distribute his work with just the click of a mouse. And readers can get their favorite author’s work immediately, rather than waiting on a publisher’s schedule.

Why does this matter? My mom is a huge Kate Atkinson fan (Behind the Scenes at the Museum). She reads everything this English author writes. Atkinson has a new book (Started Early, Took My Dog) coming out. It’s available in the UK on August 19. But it won’t be here in the US until March 21, 2011!

Does it take six months to translate Britishisms into Americanese? Does it take that long to design a cover? To get it into American bookstores? I imagine that the publisher needs the time to do a marketing campaign and so on.

But why delay the US Kindle version of Atkinson’s new book until March 21, 2011?

Readers are an impatient lot and want their books now. With e-publishing, there’s really no reason for such an indefensible delay.

Five Steps in Planning a Mini-Retirement

coffee at peregrine

Recently, I was interviewed by a reporter from U.S. News and World Report for an article on mini-retirements. What’s a mini-retirement? It’s like a sabbatical, taking time off to pursue other interests.

The reporter found me from a post I had written about the subject, in which I discussed how I had taken time off to pursue my creative interests, including writing screenplays and a novel.

People are fascinated by the concept of mini-retirements – it’s one of the most popular search terms leading to my site. Everyone has the dream to escape office life, at least for a little while.

For those contemplating a mini-retirement, here’s my advice:

1. Have a purpose. Travel the world, learn a language, pick up a new skill, write a book, volunteer for a worthy cause – do something that matters with your time off. Time without purpose is meaningless. Invest your time in something that matters to you and the world. When you’re done, you want to have something to show for the experience, an accomplishment that you can point to.

2. Have a schedule. What are you going to do on your first day off? And the day after that? A schedule doesn’t have to be written in stone but you should have a general idea of how you will spend your time. For example, when I wrote Murder in Ocean Hall, I worked 9-5, mimicking the schedule that I was used to, though with many more breaks, including an afternoon nap 🙂

3. Have an end date. So, you want to retire for a bit from the workforce to pursue your own goals. How long will this take you? When do you plan on finding a job again?

4. Prepare for the worst. Keep your health insurance. Save up twice as much money as you think you will need. Have a Plan B and C in case things don’t work out. Once you’re done with your mini-retirement, finding a job may take much longer than anticipated. Your assumptions may prove wrong so it’s best to have a wide safety net.

5. Be willing to live with the consequences. Dropping out of the workforce may hurt your career, will certainly harm your finances, may lead to family stress, might cause your friends to question your sanity. You could end up broke or close to it. Are you willing to accept this as the possible consequences of your decision? Imagine the worst-case scenario. Is this something you’re willing to risk?

By developing new skills and pursuing personal goals, mini-retirements can lead to new opportunities opening up, in careers and fields you had never considered before. But it’s important to plan thoroughly before making the leap into the unknown.

I'm Not That Joe Flood

I am the Joe Flood who wrote Murder in Ocean Hall, a mystery set at the Smithsonian.

I am not the Joe Flood who wrote The Fires, a new book on 1970s-style arson in the Bronx.

Why do I mention this? Because I’ve gotten a couple emails from editors of well-known magazines asking for information about my book.

But they think I’m the author of The Fires. I’m not. And a quick look at my site (like in the about me section) would reveal that. While I’m a writer, I primarily write fiction.

I’m surprised by a couple things:

  1. So, nobody reads web pages carefully? Not even editors? They just skim until they find what they’re looking for? I imagine these editors did a search on my name, my site popped up, and they emailed me, assuming that this must be the right person.
  2. Everyone blindly trusts Google to know their wishes? Search engines can’t read your mind. You can type in “Joe Flood” but it might not be the right “Joe Flood.”

Ironic, this lack of reading comprehension and digital literacy from people who work with words on a daily basis.

Murder in Ocean Hall – Now on Amazon!

My book, Murder in Ocean Hall, is now available on Amazon! My book is a mystery, set in DC, about the murder of the world’s most famous explorer. He’s killed in Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian, when the replica of a whale falls from the ceiling, crushing him to death. The book was inspired by the three years I spent working for NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

Order your copy today!