Sunday, December 16, 2018

387. Authors Are Oddballs

                               Holiday Special

Bargain, bargain, bargain!  All my paperbacks are now available from me (but not from Amazon et al.) through December 31 with free shipping.  (U.S. only.  Sorry, Canada, Australia, and Japan.)  This is my offer for the biggest gift-giving season of the year, and I want everyone to be happy (myself included).  For the books, see under BROWDERBOOKS below, following the post on Authors Are Oddballs (which we are).  As always, signed copies are available. 

          Books do make excellent gifts.  No, I don’t mean e-books, I mean real books that you can touch and stroke and smell, and throw across the room, if you don’t like them, or clasp them to your bosom, if you do.  Books with margins where you can scrawl “How true!” or “This author is nuts!”  Books that give you an authentic “booky” experience, and that you can talk up (or down) to friends.  So buy, buy, buy – it’s seasonal, it’s fun, it's insane, it helps the economy, it's patriotic, it's totally and utterly American.

           This novel, about New York City and the slave trade, got a great review from the U.S. Review of Books.  Most people don't know that, on the eve of our Civil War, New York City was the center of the North  Atlantic slave trade; ships from here picked up slaves on the west coast of Africa and delivered them to the Spanish colony of Cuba, where the authorities weren't enforcing the ban on the trade.  How did the slavers get away with it?  And how did seemingly respectable people, women as well as men, hide their involvement in the trade?  It's quite a story.

                      Authors Are Oddballs

        Yes, authors are oddballs, but they’re survivors, too.  With me, it began in my childhood, when I had to survive my brother, gym, Teddy Roosevelt, and Miss Kiess.  When my brother, who was three years older than me, came toward me, I didn’t know if he would kiss me or hit me, and he didn’t know either.  He was a creature of impulses.  In a playground once, for no good reason, he hurled a brick at me, probably to scare me and not intending to hit me.  But hit me he did, and I ran home screaming in pain, with a big lump on my forehead that they rushed me to a hospital to have x-rayed.  Fortunately, there was no fracture, just pain and a lump.  What my parents did to my brother, I don’t know, but it was probably severe.
         Gym was a horror because I was nearsighted – the first in my class to wear glasses – and a bookworm, too.  My world was up close: books, toy soldiers, and an elaborate castle that I made out of sheets of cardboard stolen from my father's laundered shirts.  That huge world out there, where boys my age played football and baseball, was risky and dangerous; out there bad things happened.  My father, a great outdoorsman, disapproved of my behavior.  He told me how Teddy Roosevelt as a boy was a weakling, easily bullied by other boys, until he went out West, toughened up, and came back physically strong and self-assured, a man.  He told the story so often that I yearned to get a photo of Teddy, tack it to a wall, and hurl darts into his toothy grin.  Lacking both the photo and the darts, I never did.

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What a target!  All I'd need is ...

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         And finally, Miss Kiess.  She was my music teacher in seventh and eighth grade, a dry little tight-knit woman in her fifties, who put the good music students in the back rows of her classroom, and the poor ones in front, where she could keep an eye on them and police their warbling.  Unable to read music or sing on key, I of course was in front.  

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A mystery that no one ever explained to me.  No "Music for Dummies" back then.

Detecting a false note, she would single out the culprit (usually a him and often me) and make him correct his singing.  She usually called me “boy” or “Browder.” rarely by my first name.  Though intelligent and sensitive, she was mean and sour, with a wry sense of humor.  Once she told us how, when growing up in Texas, she fell into some quicksand.  Obviously, she survived, but I became convinced that God put that quicksand there for a purpose, and lamented that it hadn’t done its job.  (Beware of abusing a budding writer; we will take our revenge, as I am doing now.)

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If only...
 Andrew Tatlow

         Yes, authors are survivors, albeit with scars, but maybe we all are, too.  So what makes writers really different?  We cannot not write; it’s in our  blood and bones.  While other people in their off hours socialize, drink, laugh, gossip, do drugs, have sex, and make love to their mobile devices, we authors sit at our desk or computer, scribbling or typing away.  And we’re oddball in other ways, too.  Take me, for instance.  I’ve never owned a car, a television, or a cellphone.  I manage my computer, but with misgivings and suspicion (the feeling is mutual).  Ours is not a friendship, more of an armed truce.  And yet, we need each other, desperately.

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My friend and enemy, sometimes provoking shocking fulminations.
All About Apple museum

         So what am I writing?  These days, nonfiction about New York, and historical novels set in nineteenth-century New York.  Though I was born and raised in the Midwest, and went to college in Southern California, I am a committed New Yorker, convinced that this crowded, noisy, expensive, and nerve-racking city is unique.  It’s where you can lose yourself or find  yourself, think and learn and grow.  It’s intense, diverse, creative.  Not for everyone, but for those who need it to become themselves.  For them, a sign that once dominated the Staten Island ferry terminal says it all:  NEW YORK.  IS  THERE  ANYWHERE  ELSE?
          So of course I write about it; how could I not?  About weird and wonderful people like Eliza Jumel, the prostitute’s daughter who got to know two former kings and a future emperor.  And the cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein (“Beauty is power”), and Quentin Crisp, the self-styled Stately Homo of England, both of whom truly realized themselves in the city that never sleeps.  And sinister people like the vicious lawyer Roy Cohn, and the serial killer David Berkowitz, who terrorized three boroughs.  They were all very real New Yorkers and left their mark.  And I also do fictional characters in the nineteenth century: a penniless street kid turned pickpocket who yearns for better; a respectably raised young man who becomes a male prostitute and falls in love with his most difficult client; and the strange friendship of a dapper young bank robber and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him.
         When not writing I do other things, and here again I’m a bit of an oddball.  For years I hiked, both in the city’s parks and along the Palisades, those towering New Jersey cliffs that line the Hudson River.  And for a real challenge, I hiked upstate in the vast stretches of Harriman Park, where, if I went on a weekday, I would be the only one on the trail, alone in a wilderness (though not designated such) with nothing to look at but trees and the blue sky overhead.  I also watched birds through binoculars, an obsession that used to strike the unafflicted as just plain weird, until the rise of the environmental movement redeemed it in their eyes. 
         And I looked at more than birds; weird again.   What other word is there for someone enamored of mushrooms (to look at, not to eat), who bonds lovingly with Hairy Parchment, Jelly Tooth, and Worm Coral, with Stinkhorn tipped with smelly green slime, and the exquisite but fatal beauty of Destroying Angel?  What drew me to these oddities?  Wonder, a deep feeling of awe in the presence of the natural world, this teeming life-force all around us, this magic, if only we would look: the irrepressible Big Mama from whom we come, and to whom in the end we return.  So awesome, so inviting, and so smothering is she, that I flee back into my other obsession, my writing, and into the man-made wonders, and the noise and confusion and excitement, of the city of New York. 

Coming soon:  Me and booze.  There's lots to say on the subject.


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, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival 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.

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"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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