When Berlin native Joe Clifford wrote and published his first book “Junkie Love,” and it was a success, he didn’t know where his path in life would go from there. After all, he was coming off a 10-year battle with addiction which had left him homeless. Now, he had his own place and a bit of money. It was a fork-in-the-road moment, and he decided to just keep on writing.
By the end of 2023, Clifford will have published his 20th book. The prolific author has been married for 12 years, and he and his wife, Justine, are raising their children Holden, 12, and Jack, 8, in San Francisco.
Aside from writing, Clifford enjoys golf and is a member of the musical group The Wandering Jews, playing alongside members of Smashmouth and The Hold Steady. The band has an album coming out titled “A Better Machine.”
This week, Clifford was back on his old stomping grounds for a sold-out event at Berlin-Peck Memorial Library.
A member of the Berlin High School Class of 1988, Clifford was in town to discuss his latest, and most successful book to date, “Say My Name.” The work of fiction takes place in a town reminiscent of Berlin and includes characters based on real people local readers may recognize. “So, I asked everyone whose names I used in the book, their permission,” Clifford said at his library talk. “There are twins in the book that are based on Anne and Allison Hodgson, who I graduated with, and I asked them if I could use their names in the book. One said sure and the other said ‘that’s creepy.’ So the twins turned into Annabelle and Ava Rogers.”
Clifford said he owes a lot to his old friends Jim Case, Ron Lamontagne and the late Jack Lotko, who he mentions in the book. “Say My Name" is dedicated to Lotko, and his mother was in attendance at the library event.
“Say My Name" is described as "a true-crime story about a crime that never happened ... On the heels of a divorce, a midlist mystery writer returns to his hometown in Central CT and is dragged back into a decades-old, unsolved case involving former missing classmates to expose the horrific secrets of a quaint, idyllic New England town. Fusing the modern domestic psychological thriller with popular unsolved mysteries ("Girl on the Train" meets "In Cold Blood"), this meta blend of true crime and fiction plays with expectations and perspective before its mind-blowing conclusion.”
“It’s interesting when you get guys and girls you grew up with coming up to you and saying, ‘I never knew this happened,’ and I have to then tell them it didn’t,” the author said. “That's where the blurred lines come in between true crime and fiction, where fiction meets reality.”
Clifford said he gets nostalgic coming back to Berlin.
“I hated it here,” he said with a laugh. “I knew everything. It was holding me back and it was terrible. There was nothing to do and I couldn’t wait to get out. Now I come back, and I see Berlin Pride flags, and the Dairy Queen is still there. And while it has changed, there is so much that has stayed the same. Everything that I remember as bad is now good. I have nothing but good things to say about it and I think about coming back and maybe raising the family here, but there are no talks in the works yet."