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  • Writer's pictureJohn Clarkson

Did 25 Years Make a Difference?

My fourth novel, NEW LOTS, was published by Tor/Forge twenty-five years ago. I set the story in Brownsville, Brooklyn, during the last days of the crack epidemic that ravaged poor neighborhoods throughout New York. There was a housing project on New Lots Avenue that I used as the primary locale in the book. That housing project became a composite of the systemic problems that plagued neighborhoods like Brownsville and its mostly African American residents.

As you may know, I've decided to re-edit and self-publish my traditionally published books that are now out of print. NEW LOTS in the next book in this project and will be available in a few weeks. (I'll keep you posted). As I was finishing the work on the new edition, I naturally thought about whether or not the story is still relevant all these years later. On the surface, it seemed to be. America is living through the Black Lives Matter movement, George Floyd protests, and a re-evaluation of race relations and police department policies.

I decided to dig a little deeper into the issue of relevancy. What I found out made me believe the story of NEW LOTS is more relevant than ever. I checked on what's happening in that housing project I used as a setting. Over the years, articles in the Village Voice, NY Post, Gothamist, and Real Deal - New York Real Estate News paint a picture that sadly resembles the situation so many years ago. A typical quote in 2015: "The courtyard was an open-air drug market. Buildings were taken over by squatters and drug dealers. Over twenty apartments were commandeered for selling drugs. Real estate investors were still trying to profit from the situation."

Regarding Brownsville in general: Data from NYC in 2018 shows that the neighborhood has the highest infant mortality rate in the city, the most drug-related deaths, the most premature deaths, most psychiatric hospitalizations, highest rates of diabetes and childhood obesity, poorest access to healthcare, poorest housing quality, worst air pollution, and so on.

So, now that you’re saying to yourself – why the hell would I want to read a novel that’s going to remind me how bad things were back then and may be even worse now? – let me point out that NEW LOTS is a novel of redemption. It’s a story that show that even in the worst situation, even amidst the most intractable set of problems, something wonderful can happen. Not only can happen but must happen if one is to survive. That’s the reason to read NEW LOTS. And during these trying times, that’s what makes the story more relevant than ever.

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