Joe Flood, DC denizen for more than 20 years, is a writer, photographer, biker, explorer, and web content manager. He recently published his fifth book and agreed to share some of his story and love for DC with us through pandemic-safe e-mail exchange.
First, tell us about your latest book, Likes.
Likes is a funny collection of short stories about social media, from Strava riders pursuing digital crowns to a Florida woman who goes viral after a drunken tweet. The book was inspired by my own experiences with social media and the tales of others. For example, the first story, Avocado Toast, is based upon a friend of mine who loves good bread and has a paranoia about Facebook. But maybe his paranoia is justified.
I wanted to write a short book, with short stories that could be read during breaks during the day. I wanted to subvert social media with fiction. Reading a story is better for your brain than staring at a screen. Instead of picking up your phone for the umpteenth time, pick up Likes instead!
Is this latest book a warning bell about the rise of social media?
In Likes, I skewer our collective obsession with online popularity. Being an avid user of Twitter and Instagram, I’m just as guilty as everyone else. While I recognize what it’s done to my sanity and attention span, I feel powerless toward this digital addiction. I’ve become a slave of likes.
It’s not my fault. Social media is designed to be addictive. It’s a very clever trap created by some of the smartest people on the planet to ensnare ordinary Americans – including me.
Likes is a warning. Our opinions are being shaped by the information presented to us on our devices. That information is not for our benefit but to generate engagement for social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Their only interest is collecting ad dollars and will gladly stoke outrage if it adds to their bottom line.
Social Media is a theme in this short stories collection. I assume that you are active on many platforms given your wide range of interests. How do you characterize your relationship with social media? Do you worry it could take over or drive your own social life?
I’m glad that I grew up before social media. I don’t know how kids in college can concentrate with the distraction of their online devices. Plus, I’m glad that my embarrassing photos from those days are in old shoeboxes rather than living forever in the cloud.
Social media complements my social life. It has connected me with tons of people with similar interests. For example, the #bikedc community on Twitter is great. They provide tips on bike trails, equipment, safe riding and any other subject you can think of. In the pre-covid era, we even got together for monthly happy hours. That is what is social media is good at – expanding your social life with friends of similar interests.
You had already published at least four books prior to this latest collection of short stories. Washington, DC seems to feature prominently in your writing. Where you do you draw your inspirations and book ideas from in your daily life in the city?
I get my ideas from wandering around the city. I like to walk and bike, particularly in the Dupont/Logan Circle neighborhoods. What’s great about living in a city is the constant change. And overhearing other people! I miss riding the Metro because that was an endless source of ideas. The bus is even better for that. Take out your earbuds and listen to the fascinating conversations Washingtonians are having all around you.
What are some of your favorite places to go and write or do you prefer to do all of your creative writing and editing at home?
Covid has been hard for me because I prefer to work out of coffee shops. Something about the background noise and the caffeine buzz makes me really productive. When I write, I treat it like I’m going to the office. I’ll tell myself that I’m going to write for two hours, no matter what. Peet’s was my favorite place to go because they had good coffee and plenty of room.
Aside from your writing, you are also a biker that loves to explore the city and surroundings. How has the pandemic and corresponding closures impacted you in that regard? What has been your best bike ride route during the past few months?
I’ve been biking more but not as far. My favorite route is a Saturday morning jaunt to Alexandria. I roll out of bed and get on my bike, stop in Del Ray for coffee, and then come back before the Mount Vernon Trail gets too crowded.
What are some of your favorite haunts in the DC area? Will any of these feature in future novels?
I’ve been spending a lot more time in Rock Creek Park and its offshoots, like Dumbarton Oaks Park. It’s amazing that you can be in the woods in the middle of the city. I’m also a fan of the Spanish Steps in Kalorama.
You have been in the city for at least two decades. What changes have you seen in the city that have delighted or surprised you?
When you come to a city, you think it’s been like that forever and will never change. I never imagined 14th St would become a bougie paradise; I though it would be burned-out forever.
What’s surprised me, though, is the love that people have for DC. This town gets unfairly maligned by the rest of the country. It’s a really beautiful city.
What is an ideal free day for you in DC?
Last weekend, I took a rainy day walk through Dumbarton Oaks Park. There was no one around and it was lovely to be on a muddy trail under the trees. I came out of the woods and was in Glover Park so I had BBQ at Rocklands. I then walked to Georgetown and got coffee at Dogtag Bakery, sitting by the canal and reading the New Yorker. Then I took bikeshare home. That was a good day.
Once the closures lift, what are some of the first things that you want to do that you have not been able to do recently?
I’d like to have a beer with my #bikedc friends at Glen’s Garden Market. It was one of my favorite things do in the before times. And then I’d go to McCllellan’s Retreat and talk to the bartender.
Now that our interested is piqued, where can we access your books?
I have a blog at http://joeflood.com. The latest book is found on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Likes-Short-Stories-About-Social/dp/B08CWJ8FF7).
All images copyright to Joe Flood unless otherwise noted.