Review: That Saturday at Mendorff’s

I posted the following review on Because this novel examines such an important topic, I’m posting it here, too.

What happens after a tragedy?

Too often we read of another mass shooting–whether it’s Roseburg or Charleston, Aurora, or Newtown, Tucson. Yet how often do we think of the survivors? How often do we follow them in their long physical and emotional recoveries? To say, “You lived” is not enough. In That Saturday at Mendorff’s, Lucy Ke follows the lives of the survivors–both the victims of a shooting at a fictional bookstore and the gunman’s family members (what do you do if your husband, your father, is a murderer–and what do others do to you?).  Mendorff’s is a bustling community hub where people of all ages come to shop for books, to hang out, to get a snack at the café, when Cy McNulty, angry about an earlier interaction with a clerk, walks in carrying three guns and starts to shoot. Ke skillfully weaves the novel between minutes after the massacre, years before, days before, and a long look back after 10 years, as journalist Mollie Dobbs is tasked with tracking down the people who are left for a follow-up story. Many find it difficult to discuss, and even the heroic officer who shoots McNulty and ends the bloodshed leads a life that, a decade later, is charmed only on the surface. Ke examines the survivors, their guilt and anguish, their isolation from the lives, and sometimes the people, they could not go back to, and their search for some way–and some reason–to go on, to find what peace they can. The devastating portraits include two women who lost children that day–one, a grandson; the other, a nephew–and survivor Jeb Creel, who envisions a radical path toward resolution. That Saturday at Mendorff’s offers a thought-provoking investigation of the aftermath, its own havoc, where the underlying question remains: What are we going to do about it?

New year, new book, and pursuing reviews

In Both Hands is at the printer’s, and I’m focusing on getting the word out. Yesterday, I made postcards to hand out (this was also part of the work transition–a way to create something for my “I’m learning Adobe Illustrator” portfolio), and I picked them up today. It’s amazing how happy a stack of postcards can make me feel.

Today, I sent out press releases for the launch reading (Feb. 9, 3:00 pm, Open Books in Seattle). Soon, I need to set up an event on Facebook and send out an email message.

And this is where it gets tricky: If you want my book or you want to come hear me read, you’ll be glad to find out about the book launch. If you aren’t interested–for whatever reason–it’s just spam (no one wants to send spam, that’s why we put the “take me off your list” instructions at the bottom of our messages). It’s all part of finding our audience–finding those people who read our messages and say, “Good to know!” without irking the rest of the world.

Or does this fall under the general category of “It’s hard to ask for things”? Does it depend on who you’re asking?

(Someone has been spamming me for the past couple of days. I looked the person up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and am not connected with him anywhere. That leaves me unimpressed. But the unsubscribe link looked fishy, so I’ll just keep deleting the messages, a little more annoyed each time.)

Then we have the question of reviews.

When I went back through my acknowledgments page for In Both Hands, I realized that most of the journals that so generously printed my poems don’t publish reviews. Then I happened on this list of publications that do review poetry books. In some cases, you can send a review copy and they’ll decide whether they want to review your book. Other journals will accept unsolicited reviews, which brings me back to square one: How do you find reviewers?

This somewhat older article says maybe not. Matthew Zapruder, of Wave Books, says, “I don’t think reviews are particularly necessary to help people decide if they want to buy the book or not, since anyone who has access to the Web can Google an author and find a pretty good sampling of someone’s poems on on-line literary magazines, especially from recently published books.”

But it’s all about finding your audience, or reaching a wider audience–and it’s easy to think that if someone finds an enticing review of your book, then they might Google your work to decide whether it’s really for them. As always, Jeannine Hall Gailey offers helpful advice in her post on getting press for a small-press poetry book and her interview with Midge Raymond (I need to pick up a copy of Midge’s book).

Looking for even more guidance, I asked Jeannine directly, and here’s what she had to say:

“First, make sure you have been giving back to your community. Have you been writing reviews? If not academic or commercial, at least on Amazon and Goodreads? People do notice these things, and I think they like to support someone who supports others. I’d also recommend not leaving all the hard work of sending out review copies to your publisher, who does not have the personal connections you might. When you send a review copy out, make sure to include a nice note to whomever might do the review. I know it helps me when I get my stacks of books in the mail if someone says ‘Oh, I’m so and so, remember our discussion about thus-and-such at x conference? I hope you like this book because it’s about x.’ Just getting the anonymous copies with the PR sheet doesn’t really help me as a reviewer connect with a book, and I get so many that a lot of them just never get reviewed. (It’s probably worse for other reviewers than me, in terms of numbers–I’m not that well-known!)”

Important points.

I’ll confess right now: I haven’t written reviews of poetry books. They’ve made me nervous, but clearly this is a good time to start building that skill set (it makes me think of building new writing muscles). I believe that it’s important to support the community by going to readings (and I could always improve in that department, as I look out the window at the dusk rain and prepare to go listen at Beacon Bards tonight).

How do you get the word out? How do you find reviewers?