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.

Friday Photo: The Wallace Line Edition

The Wallace Line
Printers Row journal with The Wallace Line standalone supplement.

There is a special thrill to seeing your name in print that electrons will never be able to replace. Books and newspapers are physical objects. They are permanent. And they exist in the real world, not the virtual one.

Which is why I was delighted to get this awesome package in the mail. It’s my short story, The Wallace Line, which was printed as a standalone booklet in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row. My tale of a trip to Komodo that goes horribly wrong was a finalist for the 2013 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction.

And my name above the fold in Printers Row! That was a wonderful surprise that I will cherish for years to come.

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.