Friday, May 29, 2009

Chatting with Colin Broderick, the writer of Orangutan

Released by Random House December

It's been awhile since I've been excited about a book release. After hearing about Orangutan and pounding the pavement to find the writer, I finally got an interview with the Colin himself. He openly discussed his difficulty getting sober in an environment that condemns recovery, to the process of his book and finding an established agent...who holds the key to world wide publication/distribution so others in his predicament can be helped...before it is too late.

It's so nice to meet you...I'm so excited for the release of your book! I've heard so many great things about it. Tell me what it was like getting an agent for it?
I met a guy called Chris Campion...he wrote a book called Escape from Bellevue. I said, "If you get me an interview with your agent you'll never regret it!"

Just like that...that's the luck of the Irish for ya.

And she's the same agent for Barack Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father..." Three Rivers Press-Random House.

How many millions of copies do you think that book sold?
It hasn't left the best seller list for like two years now. Yeah, we hit it off immediately. She's huge now...we met just before he became the president. She just encouraged him to write a book after he graduated....

She obviously has an eye for talent. How many books have you actually written?
Three altogether, this is my first book that's been published.

Tell me about this soon to be released in book stores nation-wide book!
I'm actually working on the final edits as I'm speaking to you then the book will be in stores in December.

This is magic! I'm just in time...this interview is going to be gold soon. What will readers expect?

It's a memoir that chronicles the 20 years I spent working as a construction worker here in New York...and all the drinking...and trying to become a writer...

The title of your book is really significant...

Yeah, the book is called, Orangutan and the direct translation is man of the forest...the title of the book comes from when I was in a bar in California at the age of 23 and I was drinking with a black drag queen who was convinced that she was the true queen of England and she was crying on my shoulder about it...

Oh my god!
...And he/she said, "You don't know what's it like to be trapped inside a man's body" and I said, "But I do understand... I know what it's like to be trapped! I want to be an orangutan but I'm trapped in a man's body."

(laughing) everytime I drank I became an orangutan and started acting inappropriately in public and ended up in jail...because that's what happens when you're an orangutan in an urban environment!

How many times did you go to jail?
Twice here in New York.

What were the offenses?
Drunk driving...I began to attempt recovery at the age of 23.

What happened?
I was knocked down by a car at the age of 24 and broke my back in two places and became a pill popper for about seven years...

As an Irish man, how long did it take you to return to work after breaking your back?
They told me I'd never be able to do construction again but I was back in less then a year.

Sounds like something my own father would do...What did you do for money when you weren't working at that time?
Workman's Comp.

Thank god!

I didn't drink again until I was 31 and was going through my second divorce and then the cycle began again...everything that didn't happen the first time around happened...the waking up in hospitals, the jails...

So when you returned to work after getting hit by a car and stopped drinking for those few years before your relapse at the age of 31, what else were you doing?
I went back to college and studied under Billy Collins and he became my mentor...I studied poetry with him.

Did you ever publish any of your poems?
I won the Alice B Croft Award while I was there.

Did you graduate?
No, I quit before I graduated...

Oh no!
...and opened up a book store/coffee shop in Riverdale.

Sounds awesome...was it successful?
No, but it stayed open for two years anyway....

What happened, why'd it close?
It's not as romantic as you'd think...when you're on the other side of the counter...I detail it in the I just got sick of working 17 hours a day. But we had the best of the top poets world wide: Column McCann, Billy Collins, a long list of names...

Are you still in touch with Billy Collins?
I'm not sure, I haven't heard from him since I quit drinking. I'm beginning to think I might have insulted him in a late night drunken phone call. We've been friends for fifteen to sixteen years...

Who is your favorite writer?
Hemingway and Bukowski.

Charles Bukowski...he's a German...he just wrote all about his drinking and his debauchery...he's just a wild man, he's great...and Hemingway just for his clarity.

So, you never gradated college but you still wrote a book? I love it!
A few of my professors told me to just go write...I guess they were afraid I'd become a teacher and get lost in the system.

That happens way too often. Is there any censoring in Orangutan?
No, none whatsoever...whatever came out of my mouth went into the book...I wrote over 500 pages and it got edited down to 386 something like's tough when you're writing a book...the people who know me are actually surprised of what I left out, you have to keep the thread of the story moving along so that the reader doesn't get bored with it.

What countries are mentioned?
I do a drunken trip to Paris, goes from NY to San Francisco, Ireland, England....and in the end I wind up in Prague!

Why does the book end there?
I met this bartender called Renata and she gave me the will to finally sober up. We moved to Prague together to get away from it all for a while. At the moment I'm working on my new book and putting my documentary together and still working construction when I need the work.

Did you feel there was a lot of peer pressure to drink as an Irish Construction worker?
Sure,'s in the book about the irony that the more I drank...the better I got paid and the more jobs I got...

That is not good if you have a drinking problem!

(laughing) ...because all the Irish guys I know will claim they drink more than you do anyway so it's hard to say, "Hey guys...I have a problem."

True...where did you drink in Woodlawn (Irish section of the Bronx)?
I used to drink in the Catalpa and if a sane person walked in one night and seen what was going on they'd call people to come for straight jackets...I mean it's's easy when you're drinking in the nuthouse to say,"They're the's not us, we're just drinking,..having fun."

Do you think the ugly stereotype for the Irish is true then?
Yes, it's very grounded in reality...what Mexican bars? What Italian?'s Irish...the stereotype is there because we drink. There are Asian, Italian, Chinese restaurants but 8 times out of 10 where there's a's Irish and that's because we drink.

You're right...come to think of it, I've never seen a Chinese bar, ever, maybe once.

When this book comes out the Irish are going to burn me at the stake but they'll buy the book anyway because they'll want to see if they're mentioned in it and what bars I talked about...


There's actually been a book burning of Angela's Ashes....for this one they'll forgo the burning of the book and just burn me...

I hope not...I want you to keep writing, this stuff is really good.
Most Irish writers had to leave Ireland or stay in it and drink themselves to death...the Irish are famous for murdering their own talent...

That's very sad.
The Irish don't want to see anybody rise above the rest..that's why people like Shane McGowan and Brendan Behan were's only when Irish writers became honest and wrote about the truth that they came up against criticism......

In your book do you mention any dry out sessions?
Yeah, the book discusses how "Real Irish" don't need detox..the American dries out, goes to rehab and then to recovery....

Not common for many Irish!

No, the Irish guy dries out and goes back to the bar....

In conclusion...
In conclusion, it's much harder first of all culturally to admit defeat and then ask for help...we don't need no help...

I'm so excited to own a copy...I think your book will help others. It is so sad to see people suffer when they don't have to.

I always say in my book that in every room in recovery there needs to be an Irish guy to lend an air of authenticity.

That's interesting.
I think the Irish culturally have real problems with communication especially when it comes to talking about their problems and emotions....Americans are much more open...

Ah...thank you...
...when you sit down with an American they'll tell you everything whereas in Ireland they'll tell you about the weather and what they're wearing or they'll talk about the other great past time football...I guess you could say that I've been amazed that for a country that is revered for it's literary history...there are no contemporary's amazing...

Yeah, we need another Joyce and I hope that'll be you. So what happens in the end?
...I got married for the third time, to Renata.

...we moved to Prague and I'm now back living in New York with my wife and daughter doing what I was meant to do, which is writing.

Doing what you love! That's perfect...your story is perfect for my book/blog because it stays true to its premise. I'm dying dying for a copy of your book....they're going to sell like crazy.
Thank you.

Below is a link to a recent piece by the author published in The New York Times:

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