White Eagle Coffee Store Press      2007 A. E. Coppard Prize Story

Mad Dog by Kathy Flann

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Lonesome, collage,  Karen Flann

          At that moment three years ago when John Casey had signed up for University Challenge, he could not have known that the BBC cameras would love him, that the incongruity of his Washington Senators baseball cap, his impossibly swift answers to questions from any academic field, and his penchant for the exclamation "Who da brain man!" would make him a stand-out on the Lancaster University team. He had no way of guessing that tossing his head back and howling after each correct answer, something he started on a total whim and then continued even after he had been scolded and told to stop, would earn him the status of nationally adored rapscallion (John "Mad Dog" Casey).

     After all, the real John Casey was just an egghead foreign exchange student, a homesick, small-town Virginia boy with the musical talent to be a concert pianist, the first Casey to go to college instead of right into the Toyota dealership off the westbound I-66 Smoky Ordinary exit. His family, which had lived in Smoky Ordinary for five generations, actually owned the elephant in the local TV ads, the one on which Grandpa Red perched when he shouted his message about ten tons of terrific Toyotas. "This will all be yours," Grandpa used to whisper to John when all of the other cousins were outside playing football and the two of them were at the piano bench. Then he would gesture to a framed photograph of the elephant with a distant, misty admiration. "You're the only one who's as smart as Bessie." But, as it turned out, the future had other plans for John Casey.

     At first, as the acclaim grew, and as John grew into his Mad Dog persona, everything had seemed fan-freaking-tastic-there was an exclusive interview in The Sun, an appearance on This Morning, four months later a ghost-written autobiography (Mad Dog), and two months after that a top 20 CD featuring him on piano and primal wail (Mad Dog). There was a particular A-list London party during which he snuck into an upstairs parlour to play Rachmaninoff's piano concerto number three in D minor on a baby grand, and ended up impressing his favourite hip-hop artist, Suga Bear, who stood in the doorway and clapped when he finished. Since then, the two of them had become friends, real friends who talked about music, art, the hassles of fame; it was like something from his dreams.

     Kathy Flann's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, The North American Review, The Del Sol Review, The Texas Review, The O. Henry Festival Stories, and New Stories from the South. Her collection, Smoky Ordinary, in which "Mad Dog" appears, won the 2008 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award at Snake Nation Press.

   In Mad Dog, Kathy Flann writes about loyalty, affection and love, about identity loss and anomie; at the same time this story is a hilarious take down of the fame industry, the media's celebrity feeding frenzy, and the chasm of misunderstanding separating England and America. It is witty, original, and fast-paced, full of surprises, fresh insights and smart put-downs delivered with surgical precision. John "Mad Dog" Casey is an idiosyncratic polymath at the moment in history when fame is a commodity and "Idols" are manufactured consumer products. "Mad Dog," a small-town American, wears a quirky Washington Senators baseball cap, instantly answers BBC quiz show questions on any subject, then howls like a wolf after each correct answer.

                                                   Richard Hofheimer

                                                                        contest judge