Though the stories here were written (now, many) years ago, I loved working as a journalist and the important lessons journalism taught me before I began writing fiction full-time: it could always be better, tell your story and don’t exceed the word count limit, you’ve got to finish it—quit fiddling—and turn it in, deadlines are sacred, and, finally, if the first sentence isn’t so compelling it hooks the reader immediately, no one will read any further.
The other reason these stories are here is that they’re about the region where my books are set. Living on the edge of the nation’s capital and writing for The Washington Post meant that although I covered local events and people, the subjects also often concerned matters of national, and sometimes international, interest.
Each story has a short description; click on the link to open the PDF in a new browser window. Scroll all the way down to read two Op-Ed pieces I wrote on subjects that I’m passionate about: saving indie bookstores and raising a disabled child in America. You can also read my appreciation for winemaker Juanita Swedenburg, a gutsy woman whose belief in the Constitution resulted in her fight against the commerce provisions of the Twenty-First Amendment (the repeal of Prohibition) that was argued before the Supreme Court.
Serene Setting, Real World Dangers
Sending a journalist into a war-zone in the post-9/11 world is more dangerous and risky than ever. Many news organizations now make sure their correspondents get some basic training about how to survive — mentally and physically — in a hostile region.
Crash Course in Readiness
Every 3 years the FAA requires 139 airports across the United States to test their emergency preparedness plans. In 2001, Dulles Airport experienced the real thing — on September 11. The airport’s first post-9/11 drill was held on May 13, 2004. The scenario: a plane brought down by terrorists.
Fourth of July
Who knew that the folks who set off the huge fireworks displays at the national mall in Washington and Quantico Marine Corps Base need to worry about their underwear?
London’s big, black taxis are as much a beloved symbol of that city as Parliament or Big Ben. Barry Lynch gambled that they might become as well-loved in the northern Virginia suburbs.
Citizens Police Academy
It isn’t often you have the Chief of Police telling you to stop driving like a sissy and burn rubber — particularly when you’re behind the wheel of one of his police cruisers.
Learning to Live With Paralysis
The life of 16-year-old Paul Hopkins changed forever one night at a Virginia high school football game. He woke up days later in a hospital in Georgia, paralyzed from the neck down. For the next few months a kick-butt group of doctors and therapists put him through him a tough love program to prepare him for life in a wheelchair.
Friends Raise a Glass to a Man of Honor
One of the saddest assignments I accepted for The Washington Post was writing an appreciation of Wayne Swedenburg, co-owner of the Middleburg, VA vineyard where I spent a lot of time while writing The Merlot Murders. He died after a fierce, brief battle with cancer in May, 2004.
North London’s Answer to the Taj Mahal
Although I wrote this story for The Wall Street Journal almost thirty (!) years ago, the fascinating account of how the largest Hindu temple outside India came to be built in a working-class neighborhood in north London is one of my favorites.
Someone to Watch Over Me
Washington, D.C. holds the miserable honor of being second worst city in the nation for its traffic-clogged commute. Many (many) years ago — after watching grass grow outside my car window while stuck in another interminable delay — I contacted Walt Starling, then Washington’s best-known airborne traffic reporter, who had been flying over DC for decades in the era before closed-circuit television cameras came into use. He took me flying — twice — over Washington and I wrote about it for the now-defunct Journal newspaper.
Saving an Indie Bookstore: One More Page Books
Read my (pre-Covid) Op-Ed piece in the 8/25/19 Washington Post on the problems One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia had trying to keep its doors open as Amazon’s new HQ2 prepared to move to the store’s backyard.
America’s Most Fragile Citizens: Raising A Disabled Child
On September 5, 2008 The Washington Post published an op-ed piece I submitted about a subject that is dear to my heart as the parent of an autistic child. The 2008 Republican nomination of Sarah Palin as Vice President, and the mother of a son with Down syndrome, gave us a rare opportunity to shine a spotlight into a dark hole in our national consciousness: the needs of America’s disabled citizens, our most fragile and marginalized minority.
My editors at the Post worked carefully with me to make sure that the piece did not reveal my own personal politics because this is an issue that is neither Democratic nor Republican, red nor blue. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say that it is colorless, since all too often special needs children and adults are invisible in our society.
Please click here if you would like to read my op-ed in The Washington Post.
In remembrance: Juanita Swedenburg
I first met Juanita Swedenburg and her husband Wayne several years ago when I showed up on the doorstep of the winery that bears their name in Middleburg, Virginia. Explaining to a complete stranger that you think their charming, well-run vineyard would be a great place for a murder (or two) and you’d sure like to learn more about the business of winemaking as research for a novel doesn’t usually open many doors — but Juanita was a free-thinker… and definitely an iconoclast. Happily for me she said, “Well, come on in, then.” Over the years, I filled countless notebooks with all the information she shared with me and spent hours with her in the vineyard gaining practical experience in the tough-but-rewarding business of growing grapes and making wine. When Juanita passed away on June 9, 2007, The Washington Post asked me to write an appreciation of the life of a woman who was a pioneer and a maverick here in Virginia. Read a PDF of the article here.