BOOK REVIEW: From Here to There and Back
By Robin Blake, M.D.
Self-published, printed at the University of Missouri Bookstore
Review by Steve Weinberg
When I met Columbia resident Robin Blake, M.D. (full name Robert L. Blake, Jr.) maybe five years ago at the home of a mutual acquaintance, I could tell he was different from the newbie-author norm.
Blake has never been a professional writer, but felt certain he could write well enough to publish books strangers would want to read. He had studied writing informally with accomplished authors, including Trudy Lewis and Speer Morgan from the University of Missouri English Department. He never believed writing would be easy, but he sounded confident nonetheless.A retired family physician and University of Missouri medical professor, Blake recently paid to publish From Here to There and Back, his collection of 17 short stories, one parody, and two nonfiction essays.Most self-published books are, to speak frankly, garbage. Almost without exception, amateur authors lack a clue about how to construct a plot or arrange a nonfiction narrative. They don't know how to carry readers from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, chapter to chapter. Their grammar and spelling and punctuation are atrocious.Already a worthy author, Blake thankfully avoids most of these pitfalls.One of his essays, relating some of his experiences about healing when the patients believed in willing disease away with help from God, is excellent. Several of his short fiction pieces are worthy of publication in fine magazines. The variety of subject matter is surprising -- many of the stories are set far from medicine, and far away from Missouri.
In postscripts to a few of the stories, Blake explains the origin of the subject matter, how he allowed his brain to invent alternates to reality as lived by him. The inspiration for the majority of the stories, though, is left unexplained in the text.
Like other self-published authors, Blake would have benefitted from close collaboration with a talented professional editor. The narrative flow of From Here to There and Back is sometimes bumpy from paragraph to paragraph. And surely embarrassing: he has misspelled the name of the Harry Potter series author; misspelled the name of the infamous Oklahoma City federal building bomber/mass murderer; misspelled the word "Acknowledgments," a section in many books thanking relatives and friends for their support.No writer should work without a net -- that is, without a professional editor who has achieved good results collaborating with previous authors.
Blake has room to improve, but writing a book is difficult. Even a bad book is tough to complete, and only a small percentage of professional writers who have honed their craft for decades write great books.
Some excellent stories and surprising subjects make From Here to There and Back a good book and a worthy read.Steve Weinberg has written eight nonfiction books for major publishers and published hundreds of feature articles in national magazines. He has reviewed books for the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Columbia Business Times, and this publication.