Robert Hemphill, an Interview
· What inspired you to write this particular book?
This book is a collection of letters. I started writing to my father about my international business experience because I thought I was doing such interesting things in exotic places and having such funny and peculiar experiences. Dad was a smart man, but a fighter pilot in WWII and a career Air Force officer who knew nothing about business. This was a way of explaining what I was doing, and, I suppose, justifying the fact that I hadn’t decided to become an Air Force officer myself.
· When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I had an English teacher my sophomore year in high school who liked the stories that I wrote so much that she said to me, “Bob, you just sit in the back of the class and write.” Actually it’s a wonder that I ever wrote anything again. I was already singled out as one of the “smart kids” and this further level of acknowledgement was enough to make me want to crawl under my desk. I suppose I knew I wanted to be a writer, but not by being the teacher’s pet and sitting at the back of the class while everyone else did the things called for in the lesson plan.
· Who is your favorite author--or do you have an author who has inspired you?
Probably every male kid with any writing aspirations at some point wants to be Ernest Hemingway and I was no exception, except the part about using a shotgun and blowing your head off in Idaho was a bit less appealing. My favorite book of all time is Catch-22, and Heller’s career after that makes one nervous about how you maintain an on-going level of excellence in the book writing profession. My favorite authors who have maintained such a high level are Kate Atkinson and Robert Parker, author of the Spenser detective series. I have read everything each of these gifted persons has written.
· What is your writing schedule?
I write mostly in the morning, but only after coffee. Sometimes in the afternoon while sitting on the couch. Never really at night. Often on airplanes until the computer battery gives out.
· What has surprised you most about being a published author?
Because I didn’t know any better, I approached the publishing business like any other business opportunity, stumbling around and learning what to do, who to do it with, whose advice to take and whose to ignore. I had to learn the business so I could understand what my role should be. And it has been fascinating, given the enormous disruptions facing book publishers. My biggest surprise is how caught unawares the traditional publishers have been by the digital book/Kindle/Amazon revolution. It’s not like the Scribner CEO couldn’t have looked at the music industry and said to himself, “Gee, some disintermediation seems to be going on, I wonder if analog books could be at risk?” And then apparently, having asked this question, the answer came back: “No, that could never happen to me.”
· When you sit down to write is there a particular ritual you go through? Music? Something you must have on hand to drink? Etc.?
I used to write in long hand on yellow legal pads, but once I got my first computer, a pretty primitive Mac, it was goodbye paper and hello keyboard. No particular ritual, but occasionally an outline is useful.
· What do you like to do most when you are not writing?
Advise the President on middle east policy, cure cancer and eliminate world hunger. My obvious success in these pursuits has led me to continue to focus on writing.
· What is your best advice for aspiring writers?
Honestly? I wanted desperately to be point guard for the Celtics while I was growing up, but eventually it became clear that a short, slow guy with no jump shot was not going to achieve that particular dream, no matter how many hours he spent at the Mount Vernon Elementary School basketball court. If writing comes hard for you, this isn’t your game. Try something else.
Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company. His most recent book, Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, is a humorous look at international business. To read more of Robert’s blogs, visit www.rfhemphill.com.
Thank you so much, Robert, for this interview. Love the cover of the book and the title.