Saturday, June 16, 2018

360. BookCon 2018: How I Survived Pop Culture, Bill Clinton, the Grim Reaper, and Grinning Pink-Nosed Trolls.

For my other books, see BROWDERBOOKS below.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg

A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.

To be published July 26.  You can order it here from the publisher and get a discounted price (plus postage), but it won't be shipped before that date.  Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, minus the discount but with the delay.  Signed copies are available now from the author (i.e., me) for $20.00 (plus postage, if needed), though in limited numbers.  


 An article in the Science Times section of the New York Times of June 12 talked about how, because of the Y chromosome, men are different -- a subject about which I am vastly ignorant.  It seems that the Y chromosome does a lot more than determine the male body parts or pump more sperm into the adult male.  It helps fight cancer, keeps arteries clear, and blocks plaque buildup in the brain.  So hurrah for Y!  (The X chromosome, of course, makes females female.)  Some other discoveries:

  • Men aren't evolved cavemen.  Though human DNA contains vestiges of Neanderthals, any trace of the Neanderthal Y chromosome was expelled from the human gene pool long ago.  
  • But, guys, don't throw out your gorilla suit yet.  Our closest living relative is the chimpanzee, but after that, the gorilla.  And our Y chromosome aligns better with a gorilla's than a chimp's.  
  • Female gorillas are mostly monogamous, as are women (with exceptions).  But female chimps are, to put it mildly, wanton, which promotes sperm competition among males.  Ladies (humans, that is), please take note.  Are you more akin to a gorilla or a chimp?

There's lots more to report, but this will do for now.  There's nothing in the article to situate gay people in the X versus Y landscape.  But as one expert observed, X and Y each deserves a novel of its own.  And what an epic read that will be!


         Once again I and my young friend Silas exhibited on June 2 and 3 at BookCon 2018, the annual book fair at the Javits Center that describes itself as “where storytelling and pop culture collide.”  And what a collision it is!  But no one word or phrase can convey the madness of a two-day book extravaganza attended by some 20,000 people greedy for books, celebrity author book signings, freebies, and every conceivable kind of thingamabob, souvenir, and gewgaw related, or not related, to books.  Think of a trendy bookstore on steroids crossed with a rock concert, throw in Bill Clinton as a newly hatched author, and you begin to get the idea.  And Bill Clinton’s presence on Sunday worried us.  Would the Secret Service be all over the place, hampering the fair?  (Except for the New York stories cover, all photos are by Silas Berkowitz unless otherwise indicated.)

Me at BookCon 2017.  No sign in front, no big bookstand, just candy.  
         Last year Silas and I were there and over two days sold 26 books, a result that we both thought insufficient.  And a glance at our booth shows how simple, bare, unadorned, and lackluster it was; nothing about it reached out to grab passersby.  Our solution: bright clothes, bright smiles, a big sign hanging in front of the table saying NEW YORK STORIES, a big bookstand holding 12 books, and a sign overhead in back with bold black lettering against a yellow background: BROWDERBOOKS.  Forbidden: frowns, glum looks, frequent absences (i.e., bathroom runs) from the booth.  Also, funny signs and candy, inappropriate for my presumed audience.

Silas and me at BookCon 2018.  My hair is uncombed,
since I left my comb at home.  A charming touch, or messy?

         Also, having learned in 2017 who my readers are, we knew to ignore the hordes of young women, frenzied readers and frenzied buyers, who flock to BookCon by the thousand.  They want romance, sci fi, and fantasy, none of which I perpetrate.  I do historical fiction and nonfiction relating to the mad, crazy, glorious, and impossible city of New York.  So who reads me?  Older women and, to a slightly lesser degree, older men – “older” meaning anyone over 35 and therefore not a millennial.  Last year they bought 26 of my books and hopefully would again.  (Yes, I know, 26 sales is pathetic compared to those of bestselling authors, but I’m playing the small press game, and 26 sales in two days is not to be sniffed at.)  My goal: more than 26 sales, maybe 30, 35, or even 40, though I considered 40 a bit of a stretch.  Not that I would recoup my expenditures for booth and books, but it would “get me out there.”  Getting yourself “out there” is what book promotion is all about, and authors are usually too shy, too timid, too introverted, too scared, or too lazy to do it, unless someone gives them a push.  So I would give myself a push.

         We were in booth 1142 of the BookCon section, where small presses and indie authors – the small fry of the show -- exhibit on the weekend.  We and the other BookCon exhibitors had chosen not to exhibit at BookExpo, the preceding two days that are closed to the public, while the book trade talks to itself.  Arriving at the Javits Center the evening of Friday, June 1, for the move-in, Silas and I agreed that the looming big mass of the Javits Center, at West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue, is just plain ugly.  Worse still, it was built with huge cost overruns by mob-affiliated contractors.  But the facilities it offers inside are remarkable, and the book fair, being inside, can ignore the weather.  So we delivered our books and other stuff to the booth and departed, hoping for a good night’s rest before the opening at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 2.

File:Javits Center (15341738570).jpg
The Javits Center, a big, squat hunk of glass.
Janine and Jim Eden

          When I arrived at the Javits on Saturday about 9:30 a.m., I had a small sign AUTHOR pasted to my shirt, since I’d been told to let attendees know that I was of this special breed.  In the outer lobby I was immediately struck by the long line at the Starbucks.  Then, as I approached the exhibition hall, I saw a huge crowd of mostly young people waiting to get in.  There were hundreds of them jammed together, some of whom had lined up hours before – a seething mass of barely suppressed energy waiting to explode at the 10 a.m. opening of BookCon.

         Once Silas and I had set up our booth, I said a quick hello to some neighbors.  Right next door was Dana Fraedrich, fantasy author, a delightful young woman whom I had corresponded with by e-mail.  Her booth offered far more than books: T-shirts, mugs, assorted gizmos and gewgaws, and a raffle, all of it sure to attract the young BookCon attendees.  We wished each other luck, each promising to send the other any likely buyers who appeared, though our audiences were in fact quite different.

         Suddenly, at 9:50 a.m. – ten minutes before the scheduled opening – we heard a great babble of voices and then, in the big aisles at either end of our aisle, a mob of attendees running in.  “The run of the bulls!” said Silas, mindful of the annual Pamplona event in Spain, but I likened it to a gold rush or land grab.  After the mad front runners, scores of them, came the brisk walkers, then the casual walkers, and at the tail end, stragglers.  But since they had all pre-registered for the various scheduled events, why rush?  To get in the front seats, I assumed, so they could see and almost touch their favorite authors.

Here are the brisk walkers, following the mad runners, as seen from our booth.

         After that smash of an opening, attendees began coming into our aisle.  With great relief we saw that the BookCon section was better located this year, near the entrance; in 2017 it had been located in a remote area near the loading docks, where attendees didn’t show up in numbers for an hour and a half.  And who were these attendees?  As expected, hordes of young women, with some men and older women mixed in.  Almost immediately they began lining up outside Dana Fraedrich’s booth, and would continue to do so off and on all day; she must have been doing a phenomenal business.

         And our booth?  It was a long wait, but not as long as the year before.  You wait and wait and wait, and it does get discouraging.  Then, out of nowhere, they come, and you are immediately re-energized, especially when a sale results.  The sales were one here, two there, the buyers drawn by the sign in front and then by the bookstand, where their eye invariably went first to my self-published nonfiction title, No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World.  This was the pattern both that day and the next; the sign and bookstand did a good job of attracting buyers.  “These are all Cliff’s books,” Silas often explained, but then, after saying hello, we remained silent, unless or until the visitors wanted to talk.  But as they scanned the blurbs on the back of the books, we would add, “Buy two, get one free.”  And slowly, we began selling books.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World
This is the one their eye always went to first.
Bright colors and a bold NEW YORK.

         Meanwhile, strange things were happening in the aisles.  Just as in 2017, some of the attendees seemed more intent on performing than looking at books.  We saw:

·      Book bags with printing: READ BOOKS, BOOKED ALL WEEK, etc.
·      Conical black witches’ hats
·      Blue Styrofoam cowboy hats
·      A girl with a metal spike halo
·      A woman in a flaring striped dress with paper streamers inscribed with book-related mottos we were unable to read, and wearing a little box hat with matching stripes
·      A woman in a long purple dress that fell like thick drapery
·      A young woman in a red dress, with blond hair falling to her waist, accompanied by another woman sporting a tiara and wearing a glitter gown with a train that dragged on the floor (risky, I thought, in that mob of attendees)
·      On several occasions, a Grim Reaper in a long black robe, carrying a mean-looking scythe
·      Grinning pink-nosed trolls, their heads topped by a pineapple-shaped mass of red

File:The death.svg
Not the BookCon Reaper, but very similar.

A grinning troll.  The young woman is posing with him for a photo.

         And our visitors at the booth?  Nothing so wild; whether or not they bought, they were really there for the books.  They had come from New Jersey, Long Island, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Hawaii, and of course New York.  One from a small town in Rhode Island --  a town too small to appear on maps – said that when she returned from New York, her friends and family told her, “You walk too fast.  You talk too fast.  Calm down.  This isn’t New York.”  We agreed that fast-paced New York was not for everyone.

         Just across the aisle from us was LITTLE BOOK OF YOU, offering baby books to parents.  We got a kick out of seeing parents with young children gravitate to the booth, where the exhibitors at times appeared with their infant, often with the child perched on Daddy’s neck.  And to the right of them was Sartorial Geek, offering trendy clothing to female millennials.  Some of the attendees would pose for a photo inside a frame that said  SARTORIAL above their smiling faces and GEEK below.

Here is LITTLE BOOK OF YOU with the baby, just across from us.

         At the end of the first day, we had sold only 8 books, as compared to 15 the year before.  A downer.  And yet there was a better flow of traffic in our aisle, and our booth was more attractive.   “On Sunday we’ll be lucky to sell six,” I said to Silas, remembering that in 2017 the first day was better.  The book that sold the most: as in 2017, the New York stories.  But there was good news about Sunday: Bill Clinton would be on the floor above us, so on our level the Secret Service would not get in the way.

         The second day was a little less hectic, a little less wild, with no Grim Reaper but still at times the trolls.  While Bill Clinton hawked his wares and his new authorial persona upstairs, downstairs we hawked ours.  In the flow of traffic on our aisle were the usual hordes of female millennials, but also a few people in wheelchairs or walking with canes, bands of young women in head scarves, and several of those fake Buddhist monks one sees offering trinkets on the streets of the city.  Many attendees seemed to be hurrying somewhere and gave not a glance to any of the booths on our aisle.  And a few seemed like lost souls wandering in a labyrinth, heading they knew not where.

         Interesting people began to show up at our booth.  An African-American mother asked me what Bill Hope was about, and when I told her of a street kid turned pickpocket who never robbed ladies or the poor, she was flashed the warmest of smiles, charmed, and bought the book, maybe for her daughter.  A mother accompanied by her thirteen-year-old son bought the New York stories for her niece, having been assured by me that there was no sex or profanity.  She explained that her brother, the niece’s father, was very strict in such matters and would read it himself before letting her have it.  She then had me inscribe the book to the niece, spelling out the girl’s Korean name.  Soon after that a woman came to the booth and, once she heard me mention my love of the city’s history, told me that her husband shared this interest and vigorously waved him over.  He came, read the blurbs with great interest, then took us up on our offer of “Buy two, get one free” and left with all three novels.

         To my and Silas’s surprise, on two occasions a young woman came to us and bought a book.  We were even more surprised when one who had bought the New York stories came back an hour later, said she had started reading it – astonishing, in this milling mob of attendees – and asked if she could have her photo taken with the author.  This is common at BookCon and we were happy to oblige, but it was the first such request for me.

         A boy about ten years old turned up, gave Bill Hope a long, studied look without opening it, departed, then came back ten minutes later, pointed to it, and asked, “How much?”  “Twenty,” I said.  He made a face and immediately left.  Should I have offered it at ten, or asked how much he could afford?  No, it wasn’t meant for children; had he bought it, it might  have frustrated or disappointed him.

         Several buyers paid by credit card, which Silas could handle, but it proved to be a long and complicated process.  Two men who were eager to buy the New York stories tried to pay by credit card, had trouble, finally gave up, and departed.  No sooner had they left, when Silas said, “I’ll give it to them!”  “Go!” I said, and he dashed off.  Moments later he was back to report that he had caught up with them and given them the book; they were surprised and delighted.  His request for the money was in their computer, so he hoped that he’d be paid.  (He was, and quickly.)

         In a quiet moment I took a quick walk down the neighboring aisles.  I saw one first-time exhibitor who confessed that he had brought too many books – a common error of newbies; in the back of his booth I saw a mass of cartons that he had brought by car all the way from Virginia.  And in another aisle I found two more first-time exhibitors sitting quietly in their booths with their books lying flat  on the table.  I knew at a glance that they wouldn’t be doing well; they hadn’t sparked up their exhibit, made it enticing.  To lift their spirits, I bought a book from one of them, even though fantasy and sci fi aren’t my thing.  My good deed was rewarded: the one whose book I bought came to my booth later and bought one of my novels.

         At BookCon 2017 we had had access to a men's room that was palatial in size, well kept up, and never crowded.  But in 2018 we could see another facility from our booth and headed for it when necessary, only to find it hidden behind a curtain that said EXIT, which made us wonder if we'd be out of the exhibition hall and have to re-enter. The steady stream of males in and out reassured us, but behind the curtain was a drab area that shouldn't have been visible in the otherwise well-scrubbed hall, and a small men's room that was likewise drab and crowded.  After that we headed for the more distant one we remembered from BookCon 2017, and in so doing had a glance at the lavish displays of the big presses.

         In the whole two days of the fair, there was only one sour note.  A man came up, took a quick glance at the New York stories, and noted the price printed on the back. 
         “Why do you sell it for twenty,” he asked, “when the marked price is only fifteen?” 
         “If you get it on Amazon,” I explained, “you’ll be charged for shipping, so it comes to almost twenty.” 
         “With Amazon Prime,” he answered, “there’s no charge for shipping.”
         “If you can get it cheaper,” I replied, “do it.”
         He walked quickly away, and Silas and I agreed that he had no real interest in buying the book.  I charged twenty because it was too complicated to have different prices for different books, but he was the only one who questioned the price.  There’s nothing wrong with bargain hunting, but I sensed in him a certain meanness of spirit that ran counter to the mood of the fair, which is upbeat and joyous.  It was the one sale I was glad not to make.

         Some of the people who came to our booth weren't interested in books -- not in mine, at least.  One wanted us to participate in a survey about what kind of books we read; we participated.  Another announced herself as a "book store manager/aspiring author/book blogger" and left her card.  And an older Jewish man told us about his books on God and the Psalms and likewise left his card.  

         BookCon came to an end at 5 p.m. on Sunday.  Having made 20 sales in two days – far less than I had hoped -- Silas and I joined the departing hordes, toting the unsold books, the rolled up sign, and the bookstand.  Outside, scores of people were hailing yellow cabs, so Silas ordered a taxi from Lyft.  As we waited on the sidewalk, we saw the woman who had bought a book for her niece; she was about to cross Eleventh Avenue with her son.  We waved to her and she waved back, then approached us and said her son wanted a copy of the New York stories, too.  “We have six minutes,” said Silas, knowing exactly when the taxi would arrive.  So he opened his suitcase, poked about, found a copy, and gave it to her, along with a copy of Dark Knowledge (buy two, get one free).  I pocketed her twenty and inscribed the New York stories – not easy, out on the sidewalk -- and we all waved good-bye.  Minutes later the taxi came and we were off.

         Twenty-two books sold in two days, compared with 26 the year before -- disappointing.  This year we had a better location and a more attractive booth, but there simply weren’t enough potential buyers – the older readers who buy my books.  Will I exhibit at BookCon again next year?  Probably not.  Think of those hundreds of female millennials who streamed past our booth without even giving it a glance.  But I will miss the contact with my buyers; they were such an interesting bunch.  And after all, I tell myself, 22 is only 4 short of the 26 I sold in 2017.  And when, a few days later, I corresponded by e-mail with an author in England who told of her repeated frustrations in trying to sell her books, I decided that 22 books in two days wasn't so bad.  Also, for me the Javits Center is only a fifteen-minute taxi ride away; many exhibitors have to ship books long distances, or even drive up from Virginia, and have to lodge in a hotel.  And small fry though I am, I’m now a veteran exhibitor.  So I’ll see how things go at the Brooklyn Book Festival in September, which draws a better mix of attendees, male and female, old and young.  If I can find a good reason to exhibit at BookCon again, I just might change my mind.  Or maybe not.  Or maybe.  But after a strenuous two days, I spent the next three recovering.

Coming soon:  Maybe Broadway, arguably the most famous street in the world.


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

Browder - Cover - 9781681143675-Perfect - 2
The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Early reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

New release; available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

©   2018   Clifford Browder

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