Robin Hemley Dotcom

July 2009

Smart Reviews versus Insipid Reviews

Getting reviewers to review your book is becoming more and more difficult as the traditional venues for reviewing are drying up. For me, it's odd coming out with a book because the map has changed so much since I began my writing career. I've published eight books over the past twenty years and I remember that my first little book, with a print run of 500 or so, seems to have had an easier time garnering reviews. That's not to say that my new book has fallen into a black hole. Not at all. It's had a lot of radio attention and some good internet attention but the reviews have been slow in coming. It's always odd, too, to write a book that takes anywhere from two to five years and to watch a reviewer or passing commentator on a blog complain that you haven't written the book they wanted you to write. Flannery O'Connor once wrote that if you receive any attention at all as a writer you will one day receive a letter from "Some inmate of the state penitentiary or an old lady in California telling you where you failed to meet their needs." Amen. But thankfully, there are still smart reviewers out there. I received a wonderful review in The Chicago Tribune today, wonderful not only because it was positive but also because it was smart. Contrast the Brian Bouldrey's review in the Trib with a silly little review I received a little while ago in the Columbus Post Dispatch. Well, it comes with the territory . . . At least, Flannery O'Connor prepared me.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/booksmags/chi-0718-books-do-overjul18,0,5934153.story

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/life/stories/2009/07/05/2_HEMLEY_BOOK.ART_ART_07-05-09_E3_O6EB2LO.html

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Posted by Robin Hemley on July 18, 2009 7:00 AM

Recent Travels

I've been remiss in my blogging duties, but I have a good excuse. I've been doing some globe trotting and teaching, starting mid-June when I flew to Norwich, England to participate in the New Writing Worlds Conference at the University of East Anglia, which has a reputation akin to Iowa's for writing. One of the reasons I as there was as a representative of Iowa City, which is one of the three (so far) UNESCO Cities of Literature, a designation Iowa City won last year, which it shares with Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia. Norwich is putting in a bid this coming year and it will hopefully win acceptance from UNESCO.

My hosts were Professor Jonathan Cook of UEA and Chris Gribble of The Writing Centre of Norwich - the conference was superbly organized, one of the best I've attended, with representatives from around the world, including some of England's leading literary lights. One of the highlights for me was sharing the stage with one of my favorite authors, Geoff Dyer, who is as witty in person as he is on the page. When I told him we were born within days of one another, he quipped, "Your hair is looking suspiciously dark for that!" I was also pleased to meet and spend some time with two other well-known English writers, Jill Dawson and Louise Doughty, and I was also able to hang out with writing friends from India and Canada as well as my friends and colleagues, Xu Xi and Cole Swensen.

Another highlight was the excursion we took to Somerleyton Hall, a strange English manor full of stuffed polar bears and the like, made famous most recently by the brilliant W.G. Sebald in THE RINGS OF SATURN. Sebald taught at UEA until his death in a car accident in 2000.

From UEA, I traveled to London where I stayed with my friend, the young novelist, James Scudamore (winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize for his fantastic first novel, THE AMNESIA CLINIC. He and his wife Rose were great hosts and treated me to a stroll around London and one of the best meals I've ever eaten - James an aged, grass-fed cut of beef and made his very first Yorkshire pudding, which turned out flawless, and we stayed up late into the night talking. The next day, they drove me to Heathrow and I flew about 26 hours from London to Bangkok to Sydney to Brisbane and finally to Townsville, where I've spent the last two weeks leading a Study Abroad trip from Iowa with the Australian nonfiction and fiction writer, Lindsay Simpson.

It's Winter here, but Queensland is tropical, so the weather was perfect. My students had a crash course in Australian history and culture, reading first the mammoth and depressing but brilliant book, THE FATAL SHORE (chock full of floggings!) and the equally depressing recent investigative book, THE TALL MAN, about the death of an aboriginal man by a white police officer in the troubled indigenous community of Palm Island, once named the most violent place on earth by Guinness. We also viewed five films that dealt with views of Aboriginal Australia from whites and Aborigines alike: WALKABOUT - a lovely but simplistic and, at this remove, clich├ęd film done in 1971 (which I saw when it opened and not since), followed by the fairly recent film THE TRACKER (which I hated but the majority of my students liked), followed by WE OF THE NEVER NEVER (which I liked but the majority of my students hated), followed by two films we all loved: RABBIT PROOF FENCE and TEN CANOES. One thing all these films (with the exception of WE OF THE NEVER NEVER) shared in common was David Gulpilil, the Aboriginal actor who made his debut as a young man in WALKABOUT and who brilliantly narrates TEN CANOES.

As for our travels, we spent three days sailing the Great Barrier Reef on the Tall Ship, PROVIDENCE, snorkeling and picnicking on various sandbars. We also visited Palm Island as well as Fantome Island, a former leper colony, a desolate and haunted little island, most of the buildings gone now.


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Posted by Robin Hemley on July 13, 2009 9:45 PM