You know the people you see in our neighborhood typing away on their laptops at coffee shops and staring pensively into space? If you were to rudely interrupt them, you may just meet one of your neighbors… people such as White House correspondent Julie Mason… or our latest subject, writer and novelist Joe Flood.
Meet Joe! Our arts writer, Cecile Oreste, told us about her friend who had just finished a book entitled Murder in Ocean Hall, which is about the Borderstan area, and, voila, we have Joe Flood. Like so many of us, he came here for school and never left. Flood has a long and storied career as a web designer, consultant, producer and anything else you can think of for a title involving the internet and websites. He has also been an active freelancer, contributing articles at his own site, joeflood.com, as well as other publications and blogs.
Murder in Ocean Hall: “My detective owned a house on the 1400 block of T Street [NW], before it was gentrified. And my murder victim, Bob Fundwell, lives in one of those fancy condos on Church Street [NW]. That street is also where Thomas investigated his first murder, 20 years ago, when the block was lined with auto repair shops.” – Joe Flood.
Borderstan: Okay, let’s start with the basics. Tell us about yourself.
Flood: I came to D.C. to attend American University, where I graduated with a B.A. in international relations and a minor in literature. I lived in Glover Park and upper Northwest for a while before gravitating to Borderstan. I’ve been in the neighborhood for about 15 years, long enough to see it transition from somewhat sketchy to absurdly gentrified.
Borderstan: You’re an avid writer, with a focus on the area. Can you tell us a bit about your book and its location in Borderstan?
Flood: I always wanted to write a novel. Originally, I was going to write a serious and literary book about D.C. before 9/11. That idea overwhelmed me though, so I started writing something much less heavy — Murder in Ocean Hall. It’s about how the world’s most famous oceanographer is killed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. A cynical D.C. investigator, Detective Thomas, is assigned the case.
Through him, I discuss a lot of city history, including the Borderstan area. My detective owned a house on the 1400 block of T Street [NW], before it was gentrified. And my murder victim, Bob Fundwell, lives in one of those fancy condos on Church Street [NW]. That street is also where Thomas investigated his first murder, 20 years ago, when the block was lined with auto repair shops. The key question that Thomas wrestles with in the book is if the city has really changed for the better.
Borderstan: What inspired you to write about our area? What do you do to stay inspired?
Flood: Cities, and how they change, are fascinating. I would love to visit Borderstan back in the 70’s. It is a really interesting neighborhood. I love the variety of buildings, especially along 15th Street [NW], and there are some gorgeous little streets like Swann and Corcoran. The history of the area, and my familiarity with it, inspired me to write Murder in Ocean Hall.
Being exposed to city life has furnished me with lots of ideas to work into fiction. I also wrote a screenplay called Mount Pleasant, which won the Film D.C. Screenwriting Competition. It’s another neighborhood story, this time about riots that took place in Mount Pleasant in the early ’90s. I’m one of those people who just loves to write.
Borderstan: You’re also done some writing for Pink Line Project and contributed a few other pieces. What does it mean to you to be an author that is also deeply involved in the community?
Flood: I love going to gallery openings, film festivals and other cultural events. With Pink Line, I see my role as encouraging others to get involved, to write that book, paint that painting, record that song. There are so many frustrated artists in D.C.
Borderstan: Last tough question – what are the best resources for writers in the area? Best place to write, best places to create characters based on real life people, etc?
Flood: You need to find the right venue to foster your writing. For me, it was getting out of my apartment and going to Caribou Coffee. I wrote most of Murder in Ocean Hall there. Going to Caribou was like commuting to a job and, surrounded by other people with laptops, I felt like I had to do some work. I also like the Renaissance Hotel on M Street. It’s got an Illy Café and lots of different furniture choices in the lobby.
For people seeking classes, The Writer’s Center in Bethesda has some good ones. You could also consider joining a writers group. But writing is something that you have to do alone.
Borderstan: Is D.C. a good place for writers? What makes it good or bad, and is there anything that can be done to improve it?
Flood: It’s an excellent place for writers. D.C. is where history happens. There are countless things to write about. And it’s filled with highly educated people who love to read.
Borderstan: Now… you’re done writing for the day. Where do you go to unwind and relax?
Flood: I like to walk. I walk (or bike) everywhere. A perfect Sunday for me is to pack my camera and a book, then walk to Georgetown.
Borderstan: Let’s imagine you just signed a big book deal — where’s the best place to celebrate?
Flood: I’d like to say it was some fancy place. But, honestly, I’d probably just go to Stoney’s (1400 block of P Street NW) for burgers and beer.
Borderstan: If you got to place your book anywhere in D.C. bookstores, name the stores and your prime location for placement.
Flood: On the stack of books you see at Kramerbooks (Connecticut Avenue NW) when you first walk into the store.
Borderstan: Last question. With the demise of Borders bookstores in D.C., what does the future hold for bookstores here? What would you suggest if you were the ‘Book Czar’ for a day?
Flood: The future of books is e-books. It doesn’t make sense to print things on paper, send them on trucks around the country, and then pulp half of them when they don’t sell. I think bookstores that survive will be closely tied to their local communities, like Kramerbooks or Politics and Prose, or will be larger operations like Barnes & Noble. I was sad to see Borders go.
If I were ‘Book Czar’ for a day, I would decree that libraries should be open seven days a week until 9 pm. We have thousands of people in this city who can barely read. But we have a political class that spends money on fully-loaded SUVs and other luxuries.