Sunday, September 23, 2018

374. The Brooklyn Book Festival

GOOD NEWS:  I just signed a contract with Black Rose Writing for publication of another historical novel, The Eye That Never Sleeps.  It's about the strangest friendship that ever was, between a dapper young bank robber and the hymn-singing private detective whom the banks have hired to apprehend him.

ALSO:  Next week I'll present an interesting work of fiction not by me but someone else.  It's very special.

                THE   BROOKLYN  BOOK  FESTIVAL

A Manhattanite with little knowledge of Brooklyn and its festival, in 2017 I had gone into this alien territory as an attendee, and having walked all the aisles, concluded that the natives were friendly and that exhibiting there was worth a shot.  So I planned carefully.  My young friend Silas, himself a transplanted Manhattanite now residing happily in Brooklyn Heights, would take most of the books by taxi or Lyft to his apartment on the day before, Saturday, September 15.  Then on the day of the festival, Sunday, September 16, he would haul them in a wheeled suitcase down Joralemon Street to Borough Hall and our booth, #137, at the northern end of the festival.  I would then come by subway with other items in my shoulder bag on Sunday morning.  On condition, of course, that weather permitted, since the festival is an outdoor event, and our booth would be sheltered only by a canopy, leaving it exposed to wind and rain.  Haunted by the prospect of a soggy festival, we uttered a silent prayer that Hurricane Florence would linger in the Carolinas a day or two, so the festival would be untroubled by high winds and flooding.  Such was our selfish concern, while hapless Southerners were being ravaged by the fiercest storm in decades.

         Our prayers were heard.  The weather remained overcast but dry, so Silas had no trouble picking up the books on Saturday and getting them to Brooklyn by means of the magic of Lyft.  Yes, magic.  His quick online query brought a Lyft driver within less than ten minutes to take him from my building in the West Village to distant Brooklyn Heights.  And the cost, with a discount for taking another passenger en route, was a mere $8.00.

         The weather favored us again on Sunday morning, when early morning fog gave way to a mild, sunny day – perfect for an outdoor festival.  I would go in shorts.  After breakfast I loaded up my shoulder bag with twine, scissors, and transparent tape (for mounting a big sign in front of our table), plus smaller signs and the hinged easels for mounting them on the table top, plus my lunch, my business cards, and their holder, plus four books (reduced from six).  But when I loaded all this, the shoulder bag was grievously heavy.  Everything in it was essential, so off I went at a less than joyous pace.

         My plan was to get to the festival by 9 a.m., allowing a more-than-ample half hour to set up our booth before the opening at 10.  I left at 8, hoping the arrive by 9 at the latest.  I caught my A train promptly, planning to transfer at Fulton Street to a #4 or #5 train for a quick trip to Borough Hall.  The transfer, so I recalled from the year before, would be a simple matter.  But when I got off at Fulton, I found that the station was more than a station: it was a huge shopping mall with signs pointing this way and that for various subway lines, and steps that took you up and down and up and down again, before delivering this confused traveler to the platform for his trains, where he just missed a #4. 

File:Borough Hall of Brooklyn.jpg
Borough Hall, Brooklyn.
Sandro Mathys

         It was just past 9 a.m. when I got off at Borough Hall, but that doesn’t mean I had reached my booth on time.  First, I got off on the wrong side of Joralemon Street, with Borough Hall looming across the street, which disoriented me completely.  Then, in the distance, I saw a vast assembly of white canopies, looking rather like a flock of sheep: the festival!  So thither I walked.  But even when I reached the flock, I was at the wrong end of the festival and had to trudge north through the 500s, and then the 400s and 300s and 200s, before reaching the 100s and, finally, booth #137.  Also in shorts, Silas waved to me from a distance, gave me the good word that food stands and porto-potties were installed nearby, and helped me set up the booth.  Two things I noticed at once: dead leaves underfoot, and two chairs so low that, when you sat in them, you felt removed from the table, and had to make a real effort to stand up.  And behind us, just across a quiet lane known as Cadman Plaza East, loomed a courthouse.  Clearly, this was not the Javits Center, where BookCon had been lavishly installed indoors in June.

         At book fairs, as everywhere else in life, you gotta have a gimmick, so here were ours:

·      A big green sign with bold black lettering, NEW YORK STORIES, hanging in front of our table, to catch the attendees’ eye and let them know what we had to offer.
·      A big book rack holding four copies of three books each, to catch the eye next.
·      In the center of the rack, the bright rainbow colors and bold black words NEW YORK on the cover of my New York stories, to hook the visitors’ eye.  Hopefully, visitors would then glance at my novels Bill Hope and Dark Knowledge, which, being overstocked, I was eager to get rid of.
·      On the table, smaller signs upright on small hinged easels, bearing deliciously witty words:




I had decided against the serious ones I used at BookCon in June, deeming these silly fun ones more appropriate for the Brooklyn fair.

Me, Silas, and the bookrack.  I'm a bit tousled from a gentle breeze.

         Also on the table were other books, upright on easels or lying flat, plus my business cards in a holder, and postcards with the cover of my gay-themed novel The Pleasuring of Men, featuring a naked young male sure to entice both male and female visitors.  All these gimmicks had been proven at BookCon in early June.  So there the two of us were, ready for the onslaught of visitors at 10.

Here I am, with all our gimmicks.  Silas thinks it a good photo, but as usual,
I think I look like a scarecrow.  Behind me looms the courthouse.

         Not an onslaught, really, since we expected only a trickle, and not the storm wave of rushing attendees that marked the opening of BookCon in June.  But since, unlike BookCon, the Brooklyn fair was free and open to all, anyone and everyone might turn up.  And so they did.   From 10 on, visitors started coming down our aisle, some of them there for books, and some of them casual strollers who had no expectation of a book fair on their walk.  There were cyclists walking their bikes, parents with infants in their arms or a stroller, and people with dogs.  One T-shirt proclaimed BOOK NERD, and several book bags said LOVE THY SHELF.  As the trickle increased to a steady flow, we experienced the usual anxiety, wondering when, oh when, the first sale would occur.  Finally, after an hour, it did: a woman who had stumbled on the fair, noticed our table, came to it, and bought.

         In the course of the day, five kinds of attendees came to us:

·      Lookers
·      B-backs
·      Chatterers
·      Friends
·      Buyers

         Lookers.  They came, they looked, they noticed our sign and the book rack, acknowledged a discreet greeting from us, and checked out the front cover and the back-cover blurb of the New York stories.  They opened it, flipped through the pages, and checked out the blurb again.  Then they looked at the other books and similarly checked them out, and just when our hopes were rising, they smiled, put the books down, and left.  Nibbles, many nibbles, no bite.  “These are all Cliff’s books,” Silas told the visitors who came to us.  “Awesome!” said one woman, who smiled and promptly left.

My self-published bestseller.  It upstages all the others.
(For info on this and my other books, see

         The most baffling looker was a man in his early forties who picked up the New York stories – always the first book to get attention – checked out the cover and the blurb, then looked through it with the most intense concentration.  This went on for ten minutes without a word from him, as he went from cover to blurb to pages and back again, always with the most concentrated look.  Surely he’s going to buy, I couldn’t help but think, but finally he put the book down and walked away.  “He’s a bit off,” said Silas, and I realized Silas was right.  Later we saw him passing again in our aisle, with the same intense look but no bag of books.  I suspect that he had looked at dozens of them and never bought a one.

         Chatterers.  They came, they might or might not look at the books, then engaged us in conversation.  The subjects varied from books and fairs and food to the state of the nation and the secret of well-being in life.  They were friendly and open and charming, but most of them went on at length.  Then, with the most cordial farewell, they left without buying a book.  It was our policy to listen to anyone and be welcoming, but, having blocked other visitors’ view of our sign and book rack, they may well have cost us some sales.  Finally I let Silas handle them, which he did very well, even going out into the aisle to say hello to their dogs.  They were quite a varied bunch:

·      A grieving older woman stricken by news that morning of someone close to her who had died.  She went on and on.  Silas thought her a little “off,” wasn’t sure if all she said was true.
·      Three charming young women from Finland who had internships with the UN.  Silas told them of some of his favorite ethnic restaurants in neighborhoods throughout the city, scribbling the info on one of my business cards.  He also mentioned two popular “speakeasy” bars, including one named Please Don’t Tell, to access which you have to go to a hot dog joint and sneak in through a phone booth with a secret back door.  For all this insider info, they were immensely grateful.
·      A young man from India who wanted advice about finding a publisher for a manuscript written by his father.
·      A woman with whom Silas shared many reminiscences and impressions of France.  Probably a foreigner, she had delicate, finely drawn features, didn’t look the least bit American.  Silas told her his college major was French, and even I chimed in, mentioning my two years as a Fulbright scholar in France, one year in Besançon and one in Lyons.  Also, my love of the stained glass windows of Chartres cathedral, and my pride in informing French people that the word for Besançon residents was “les Bisontins.”

There had been very few non-buying chatterers at BookCon, since attendees had to shell out hard cash to attend.  But Brooklyn welcomed everyone, and among them were a horde of non-buying chatterers, several of whom proved to be our most interesting visitors of the day.

         B-backs.  I learned this term from an artist friend who exhibits outdoors at the Washington Square Art Show.  “I’ll be back,” the visitor  announces and disappears into the passing throng.  Do they come back?  Almost never.  When one man asked if we were cash only, I assured him that Silas could handle credit card purchases, but he too proved a no-show. 

         Friends.  Two friends, learning of my appearance at the fair, told me that they lived not far from Borough Hall and would certainly attend and look me up.  Which they did.  The first one, an attorney, had in her office a shelf of books written by her clients, including one by me – the New York stories, of course.  She chatted amicably with the two of us and then bought Fascinating New Yorkers.  The other, a Taiwanese-born businesswoman, turned up later with her American husband, a judge, and likewise bought that book.  She already had a copy, but she wanted another to give to a friend.  When she asked me, I of course signed it with mention of the place and date – a favor that buyers requested of me throughout the day.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg
                                      My favorite review: "Unputdownable."

         Buyers.  Yes, they came.  Not people who knew me already, but book lovers and people who, out for a stroll, saw the sign and the book rack, looked, perused, and actually bought a book.  As always, they tended to be older, though there were also exceptions: a young Asian woman who bought the New York stories, and another young Asian woman who took us up on our “Buy two, get one free” offer and took three books.  Though I had hoped for a different outcome, the nonfiction sold best: as always, the New York stories, but also my latest work, Fascinating New Yorkers.  Not anticipating many sales of my gay-themed book, I had brought only four copies of The Pleasuring of Men and didn’t display it in the big book rack, banishing it instead to the other end of the table. 

See what I mean?

But the postcards showing the sexy guy on the front cover were grabbed by both sexes, and the book itself got a lot of looks; of the four copies, I sold three.  Two went to quiet older men who were probably gay, and the third to a woman who planned to give it to a male friend who, she told me, was sure to enjoy it.  And the two overstocked novels?  For the slave trade story, Dark Knowledge, lots of nibbles but only one sale; for the novel Bill Hope, whose street kid protagonist is, of all my characters, my favorite, none.  So I’m still overstocked.

The story of a lovable scamp of a kid
whose fingers find their way into people's

         The festival ended as it had begun – not with a bang but a whimper.  By 6 p.m., the closing time, Silas was winding down and I was quite worn out.  There were few people now in the aisle, and our neighbors – the chatty ones in #138 and the aloof ones in #136 – were already packing up.  So we packed up too, and having sold 14 books, it was far easier than packing up to come.  Soon enough we were standing on a street corner nearby, with no other exhibitor in sight, waiting for another Lyft driver to pick us up.  We chose the option of riding in a vehicle that might pick up another rider en route, which gave us a fare of $15 for the trip all the way from Borough Hall to my West Village address – even more of a bargain, since no other rider appeared.  Joining scores of vehicles crowding onto the Brooklyn Bridge, we crossed over the East River and finally entered lower Manhattan, at which point I marveled at the clusters of towering high-rises and felt, once again, the epic excitement of New York.  Soon, driving up the West Side highway, we turned off and arrived at my address.  Once we got all the stuff up the four flights and dumped it in the living room, Silas and I parted ways: he, at 28, to a good meal and a bit of Sunday-night socializing, and me to a skimpy supper and collapse in my bed.

         The next day, feeling played out even after a good night’s sleep, I unpacked my stuff and did inventory.  We took 34 books, sold 14 (not 16, as we at first thought), and came back with 20.  A total of 14 sales matched, but did not surpass, our previous one-day record of 14 at BookCon in June.  I had hoped to outdo that record, but alas, we only matched it.  Once again, even with a better mix of attendees, it was just a matter of who happened to come down our aisle.  We got a steady flow of visitors, and the weather couldn’t have been better, but it’s obvious that this, give or take a book or two, is the best that we can hope to do at Brooklyn.  Will I do it again in a year?  Is it worth the trouble and expense, and the risk of bad weather, to go there and sell 14 books?  Had I done only 9 or 10, I would say decidedly no.  Had I done 20 or more, I would say emphatically yes.  But 14 is in a gray zone, neither clearly positive or negative, so my choice can go either way.  Suspense: stay tuned.  And to sell my overstocked novels, I’ll have to hide the nonfiction, especially the New York stories, which upstage all the rest.

          One final note: Preoccupied with the festival, for the first time in decades I failed to buy the Sunday New York Times.

Coming soon: Junk: An Executor's Nightmare.


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.  

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.


"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.

"To read No Place for Normal: New York is to enter into Cliff Browder’s rich and engaging sixty years of adult life in New York. Yes, he delves back before his time – from the city’s origins to the 19th Century that Ms. Trollope and Mr. Dickens encounter to robber barons and slums that marked highs and lows of the earlier Twentieth Century. But Browder has lived such an engaged and curious life that he can’t help but cross paths with every layer and period of society. There is something Whitmanesque in his outlook."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Michael P. Hartnett.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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. 

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, 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.  What price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?


"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.

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, but 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.

5.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  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.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!" Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood. 

©   2018   Clifford Browder   

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