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  Dec. 2007-Jan. 2008

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Rachel KingTales of the District: Life in the
Nation’s Capital in a Time of Terror



Novel ‘Tales of the District’ Covers Co-op, Community, Veggie Eating in Takoma and DC

“Rita Jane left Dan to string the lights on the Christmas tree and… drove to the Co-op, loading up on fresh organic vegetables… she returned to the common house where she spent the afternoon cooking up a vegetarian storm -- spinach turnovers, whole grain basmati rice, cabbage and mandarin orange salad, and chocolate tofu mousse for desert (Paul’s recipe). She was very pleased with herself for making such a healthy meal.”

Thus local author Rachel King, president of Takoma Village Cohousing, civil rights lawyer/lobbyist, and a Co-op shopper provides a taste of community living and eating in her new novel that will feel familiar and comforting to many area readers. Fans of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” book and television series will also be pleased to find many parallels in King’s highly engaging and entertaining novel, which recaptures that same inclusive spirit, playful style, fast action, romance and humor.

Tales of the District: Life in the Nation’s Capital in a Time of Terror” is truly a novel for our times. It explores themes of sexuality, love, politics, civil rights, vegetarianism, co-parenting, and what it means to be a family and live in community. It challenges common views on current events and issues of deep concern to most of us -- the “war on terror,” gay rights, and threats to civil liberties – as only good fiction, and a good writer who really knows her subjects, can.

The Takoma Voice chose “Tales of the District” to launch its new online literary blog on its website, Voice editor Eric Bond observed, “Once you start reading you’re hooked.” It’s an amusing, captivating story of three endearing characters (each approaching 40) maneuvering through life in post-September 11 Washington.

Dan Canavan is a lobbyist for the human rights advocacy group OutReach. Claudia Connors, a public defender and civil rights attorney, is Dan’s closest friend and neighbor in their Tulip Lane Cohousing community (TLC).  Rita Jane Spencer, an aspiring artist and Dan’s best childhood friend, moves to TLC after painfully breaking up with her fiancé and losing her job in New York.

The story opens on Capitol Hill in fall 2002 with Dan trying to persuade a roomful of congressional staffers to oppose SOFA – the Sanctity of Families Act – “a mean-spirited piece of legislation that cuts off federal funds to any state that legalized gay marriage.”  He finds none are willing to stick their bosses’ necks out and goes home discouraged. From here on, as in Maupin’s “Tales,” the action shifts quickly over the 50 fast chapters.

At the next TLC community meeting, residents discuss the coming U.S. invasion of Iraq.  The wife of Emad, an Arab-American neighbor and peace activist, bursts in sobbing with the news federal agents have arrested Emad on suspicion of aiding a terrorist organization. Emad had donated money to “Widows and Orphans,” a charity affiliated with Hamas but with no connection to Al-Qaeda or the September 11 attacks. 

Claudia takes on Emad’s defense but is denied access when she tries to visit her friend and client in jail. “Things are different now,” the desk officer explains.  That night over dinner Dan comforts Claudia who worries, “It’s never been this bad before.  I fear for our country.”  She drinks too much and asks Dan to stay the night. 

The suspense deepens when Claudia is herself charged with aiding a suspected terrorist, Emad, and she and Dan are both subjects of FBI surveillance and “sneak and peek” searches.  As the cases move forward, Dan organizes protests to draw media attention and support them. 

Dan’s childhood friend, Rita Jane, arrives to start a new life at TLC and soon befriends Claudia, too.  She even arranges an art auction and donates her series of paintings titled “The Color of Fear” to benefit Claudia and Emad’s defense campaign.  But the normal jealousies and stresses of any three-way relationship are compounded when Rita Jane asks Dan to father and help her raise a child—a proposal he calls “messy” but promises to consider. 

Meanwhile, Claudia’s troubles grow when she begins to suffer frequent nausea and exhaustion.  When she receives a new legal summons, she faints and is rushed to the hospital. But the shocking news doesn’t end there. Neither do the discoveries, challenges and changes in the relationships within and beyond our triad.

Dan learns a secret about a powerful member of Congress from a date he picks up at the “Meet Market,” which sets off a chain of twists and turns:  unexpected support for Dan’s legislation, a hearing that reveals high-level abuse of power in the Justice Department, threats to Dan’s life, and a surprise announcement that shocks the nation.

To find out how it all “comes out,” Read it free or get the paperback online now at

by Herb Ettel, Editor of 'The Maryland Progressive'