Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let's See ... Am I Michael A. Banks or Iain M. Banks?

Back in 2003 I wrote a book about being a fulltime writer. The publisher gave it the descriptive, if basic, title How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer.

The publisher was The Writer Books, which Kalmbach Books had bought some time before I contracted to write the book. After my book was in print for about a year, Kalmbach found that it just couldn't sell how-to books on writing. (Writer's Digest Books pretty much owned the market.) So Kalmbach dropped The Writer Books line and my title with it in 2004.

Even though it's out of print, you will still find How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer for sale at Amazon, because Kalmbach sold the stock it had left to another publisher. Almost from the beginning, there have been troubles with this arrangement. For openers, I make no money from the arrangement because I've already been paid the royalty on the copies being sold. The Amazon listing carried the wrong cover image. I got that fixed, and then the new "publisher" put different pubisher names on the Amazon listing. I got that corrected. That was corrected for a time, but now the wrong image is back.

But here's an even bigger blunder (or a prank): sometime in the past few months someone changed the author's name to "Iain Banks." Iain is a bestselling science fiction writer who lives in Scotland, and the author of classics like Consider Phlebas. and The Algebraist. (He sometimes writes as Iain M. Banks, though the "M" does not stand for "Michael.")

Should I be up in arms? I'm not so sure; putting Iain's name on the listing has quadrupled the book's sales. But perhaps I could perk up the sales of The eBay Survival Guide and some of my older books by making Iain the author. (Iain: I'll even give you a cut, brother!)

(I'll stop short of doing that with my New York times bestseller. I did write it, and I've already suffered from someone trying to steal the credit. And I haven't been paid for all the work I did on that book.)

Back to How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer, I can imagine the reactions of people who saw the listing: "A book on writing by Iain Banks? I'm all over that!" And then the reaction when they get the book and find out it's not really by Iain Banks ... Oops! But hey, folks: it's still a how-to, based on the experience of a New York Times bestselling author. So keep it and read it--and let me know what you think. I'm working on a revised edition.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Here I am at one of two B. Dalton signings I did on Sunday, December 23. Although the crowds didn't quite equal last December's crush, it was all fun. As with all the signings I do, I collected stories for my next book from several folks who stopped in to talk about Crosley and Blogging Heroes. This emphasizes how important it is for a writer to get out and talk to people, beyond getting out for its own sake. (Speaking of stories, who remembers "Save cash with Kash?")

Thanks to Art Metzger, Sherry, Linda, and Mel from B. Dalton. And thanks to Sonny Moormon and Carmen Moorman for stopping by. Hope to see you all in July and August, when new books are out!

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Am Interviewed About Blogging Heroes by Nano

Recently I was interviewed by Ido Hartogsohn for Nano, one of Israel's largest news sites. You can read the interview in Hebrew here. Here's the text in English:
You call your book Blogging Heroes. What are blogging heroes? What makes one into a blogging hero?

As a title, Blogging Heroes was suggested by my publisher, Joe Wikert. To follow up on the theme the title implies, I looked for bloggers who were admirable in various ways. Like any hero, a blogging hero would have to be someone others want to emulate.

How did you choose the bloggers to participate in your book?

I chose the bloggers based on several criteria. First, I looked at the most popular sites, those most favorited at Technorati, for example. But I didn’t want the book to be just the words from those who attracted the largest numbers of readers. I also looked for bloggers whose blogs other bloggers blogged about. BoingBoing.net and Engadget.com are just two examples.

And I looked beyond my own personal interests for blogs to include. ParentDish.com is one of those. My own children are grown and I have no grandchildren, so parenting isn’t exactly a big interest for me, but I know many of the book’s readers have young children. Similarly, I included InternetDuctTape.com and The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW.com) because hundreds of thousands of readers follow those blogs.

I had several goals in putting this book together. First, I wanted to make sure that the book wasn’t top-heavy with technical subjects. Second, I felt it was important to include as many women as I could. I would have liked to have included more women, but many didn’t get back to me when I tried to set up interviews (true of many male bloggers, too). They may have been too busy blogging to talk about blogging. But there are a good number of female bloggers who have something to say; perhaps there’s a book there.

Finally, I looked for unusual blogs--blogs that didn’t confine themselves to gadgets and computers and hobby interests. Deborah Petersen’s Life in the Fast Lane (http://www.lifeinthefastlane.ca) is one of those. So are PostSecret.com and LongTail.com.

Was there a common denominator between the blogging advices the different bloggers you interviewed gave? Do you have a few popular ideas to mention? Is there a formula for a popular blog?

The common denominator in advice was to blog about your passion--something in which you are intensely interested. Other tips from the bloggers in the book involve persistence and blogging regularly (don’t disappear for a few weeks, then return and expect your readers to still be there). Dave Taylor (askdavetaylor.com) emphasized the importance of participating in other blogs. (At the same time, Chris Anderson of longtail.com told me he doesn’t comment on others’ blogs.)

The formula for a popular includes all of those things, and many more subtle concepts--some unique to this or that blogger. But all recommend patience, more or less “If you build it, they will come” mindset. More than one blogger stated that someone starting a blog now should expect to wait a year before seeing substantial traffic.

Who surprised you?

First and foremost was Frank Warren, of PostSecret.com. Frank has an intense dedication to this project--and he doesn’t view it as a moneymaking project or a freak show. He treats the secrets with respect, which is one reason he doesn’t have ads or otherwise try to monetize PostSecret.com. He has been granted an important public trust, and handles it that way.

I was also surprised by Deborah Petersen (lifeinthefastlane.ca), who also doesn’t try to monetize her blog. She covers such a wide range of subjects and spends dozens of hours each week blogging. She researches every post as if she was writing on assignment for National Geographic or The London Times. She is really dedicated.

Robert Scoble keeps up with over 700 different blogs--wow!

Chris Anderson wrote this very entertaining paragraph about the book's winning strategy:
This is very clever. First, Banks created a book by appealing to the vanity of bloggers, which is always a safe bet. Second, the book is mostly just those interviews with a few paragraphs of introductory text and talking points at the end. User-generated content! ... Wiley is giving away the book in small chunks, harnessing the combined distribution (and ego) of the prominent bloggers that are featured in the book. Each of us promotes the book to promote ourselves, and the book gets the collective blog buzz. Others who have done what I'm doing in promoting their own chapter include
Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing, David Rothman at TeleBlog and Steve Garfield.

Very clever indeed.. :) Any comment on that? Was that kind of winning strategy in your mind when you decided to write the book?

The idea of promoting the book via the blogs it covers was a natural one, but it didn’t come along until after I started interviewing subjects. The way Chris and some others have described it, it’s promotion by ego. It seems to be working; sales are really good with the book out just two weeks now, and there’s lots of favorable response to the chapters and excerpts that have been posted. In addition to the chapters posted by the various bloggers, there are excerpts at http://www.theaveragejob.com, and I frequently post summaries and interesting quotes from the bloggers at my Real Writing Life blog, which is at http://mikebanks.blogspot.com.

You also used a pretty interesting marketing method, allowing bloggers to publish chapters from the book on their site. What was the idea there, and aren't you afraid that it will stop people from buying the book when they can get it online?

I think the interviews (and, in all modesty, the biographies and background information I wrote) are so interesting that people will want to have it all in a convenient format they can refer to often. Which is the hardcopy book itself.

Getting someone else to place chapters on popular, high-traffic Web sites is of course an obvious marketing device, perhaps the best way to get buzz started. I’m waiting to see others do the same thing. We’ve had blogs turn into books, and books turn into blogs, but this is the first time that multiple blogs have promoted a single product in concert. I guess we could call it “distributed book promotion.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blogging as Practical Politics?

A while back, Amazon added a feature that displays a book's rank in the top 100 titles in specific categories. I wasn't surprised to see Blogging Heroes show up frequently among the top 100 Internet Books. But it was a bit of a surprise to find myself at No. 7 in the Politics/Practical Politics category--one ahead of P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores.

My only real experience with politics was holding a low-level elected office twice in the 1980s. I happen to live in the small town where O'Rourke attended college; maybe that's more relevant.

It's interesting to see things go in directions you hadn't considered. And I'm certain that blogging will be an important tool in the coming elections.

Blogging Heroes Excerpt in Blogger & Podcaster Magazine

The December issue of Blogger & Podcaster magazine has an excerpt from Blogging Heroes. The excerpt is the interview with Peter Rojas of Engadget. The magazine bills it as "an interview in a book excerpt." Click here to have a look; the layout is nice, and the opening page carries Pete's photo. This interview presents an interesting viewpoint on SEO--one that's shared by successful bloggers throughout the book.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Last Sunday's Signing at Borders

(Photos courtesy Tom Miller)
Many thanks to Borders in Mason, Ohio, for hosting a signing for Blogging Heroes and Crosley this past Sunday, December 16. We had a great turnout, and Tom Miller brought in his 1948 Crosley wagon.

That's me in the top photo, at the signing table wit my books and Crosley Reds shirt at the signing table. Behind me is Marjorie of Borders. The photo below shows my view from the signing table. (Click either photo for full-size image.)

As you can see, the Crosley is just about the biggest car you could get into the entryway! Click here for photos of the car inside the store!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Congratulations, Susan!

Congratulations to my daughter, Susan Banks, who graduates with her degree in Social Anthropology from Northern Kentucky University on December 15!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Looking for Blogging Heroes Intervews Online?

Click here to read The Long Tail author Chris Anderson's comments on my new book, Blogging Heroes. You can sample chapters at The Long Tail blog, Mark Frauenfelder's BoingBoing.net, and video blogger Steve Garfield's Off on a Tangent.

To see some fascinating quotes from the interviews and a good summary, click here. This will take you to the Blogging Heroes listing page at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Books Cause the Darnedest Things--Sometimes

A while back AuctionBytes ran an article I wrote about how books can affect the price and volume of merchandise on eBay. That had to do with how the Crosley book seems to have had an effect on the sales and prices of certain items on eBay.

Earlier this week I encountered another phenomenon apparently caused by the publication of Crosley. I was checking some records in the online genealogy section of Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery, where Powel Crosley and many of his family are interred. When I did a search for the name "Powel Crosley," none came up. Powel's wife, brother, mother, and others are there, but Powel, his father (Powel, Sr.), son Powel, III, and grandson Powel, IV were no longer listed."Might this be the result of the Crosley book?" I asked myself, thinking the popularity of this book may have led to too many queries for Crosley.

I contacted Phil Nuxhall, the official historian of Spring Grove Cemetery, and Phil consulted with the company's Webmaster. The four Powel Crosleys are now restored. There had been a problem with the fact that each was listed with a variant of the last name: Crosley Jr, Crosley IV, and so on. Now you can find them at http://www.springgrove.org/sg/genealogy/sg_genealogy_home.shtm

This sort of thing has happened in the past, notably with songs, like Wilson Pickett's "634-5789," among others. In the case of the song, telephone companies hosting that number had to shut it down.

If you want more information about the Crosley family plot (Section 17, Lot 6 at Spring Grove), see Find a Grave. You can also leave virtual flowers and a comment.
--Mike at michaelabanks dot com

Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Signing in Mason this Sunday, December 16!

I'll be signing both Blogging Heroes and CROSLEY this Sunday, DECEMBER 16, from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM at Borders in Mason, Ohio. Click here for directions.

Mason is the home of WLW's transmitter and famous Blaw-Knox diamond antenna tower. You can see it as you drive into town.

Come on out: I'll have some special free handouts for everyone, whether you buy a book or not! Bring a copy to be signed, or buy a copy for your Crosley fan friends or blogging relatives as a holiday gift!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Radio Changes

I've been interviewing a number of people in the broadcast business, in connection with a book I'm writing. I've collected an interesting set of opinions on where radio is going--AM radio in particular. Just about everyone I talked with expressed the thought that the AM radio talk show with its "angry white men" has been overdone, and that something new is going to emerge. Problem is, nobody can say what that might be.

Thinking about it, one of the reasons the call-in talk show format got popular is because it is live programming. Radio listeners didn't just start demanding people screaming and saying shocking things--though many of them were certainly looking for a way to get on radio and speak their piece. I believe that the live element is what grabbed listener interest. Consider the success of Gary Burbank on WLW. He's not one of the angry white men--but he is live.

Live programming is, of course, where radio started. It makes one wonder if more live programming--of a different type--is waiting in the wings as the angry white men duplicating one another's shtick fall away. It seems as if everything comes back if you wait long enough ...

For some interesting background on all this, have a look the book Something in the Air, by Marc Fisher. You'll find my review of the book here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Blogging Heroes Now Shipping

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are now shipping Blogging Heroes.

Several reviews and interviews are scheduled in various media. One of the first reviews is by Joel Comm, here at Amazon. Joel is the author of The Adsense Code and is one of the book's subjects. In his interview, he has quite a bit to say about blogging and how to put Google Adsense to work. Have a look at Joel's Web site and The Adsense Code, too.
--Mike http://www.michaelabanks.com/

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cincinnati Radio Archives

There are precious few audio archives from the heyday of Crosley Broadcasting, from the 1920s through the 1940s. A lot of what exists isn't available, including The Nation's Station: Cincinnati Radio (1921-1941) (an important resource when I was researching Crosley).

Fortunately, WGUC, Cincinnati's public radio station, makes available two great audio archive/tribute CDs. (And they have great prices--at least ten bucks less than I've seen one of these for sale at eBay and Amazon.com.) Shown above, the CDs are:


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blogging Heroes in Bookstores This Week!

My author copies of Blogging Heroes arrived Friday. This means the book will show up in your local bookstore this week. (Amazon starts delivering copies on December 5.)

It's a good-looking book. Michael Trent did a fine job on the jacket design. The green type on the the covers almost glows in the dark, and the endflaps are distinctively different. Inside the book, and design and layout support the text wonderfully. Click on the image above to get an idea of the layout, full-size.

The illustrations (images of blogs and other interesting items) came through fine, and it has a decent index. At just over 300 pages, Blogging Heroes is a good-size hardcover. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Friday, November 23, 2007

Writing Blogging Heroes, Part 4 (Transcription)

Once I had the first Blogging Heroes interview in the can, it was time to face the inevitable: transcription. Transcribing someone else’s words is tedious for writers. We’re accustomed to pulling words out of our heads without routing them through our ears first. That extra step is time-consuming and often confusing. And the physical process of transcription—listen, pause, back up, listen, type, listen, back up—can be slow and maddening.

But several people told me that audio interviews could be quickly and easily turned into text files with a voice-recognition program like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Hmm…there was that “easy” thing again. I was suspicious. I figured only government outfits like the NSA had voice-recognition software that good. Still dubious, though hoping for a miracle, I sprang for a copy of NaturallySpeaking.

NaturallySpeaking is indeed an excellent program. It does everything Dragon Software promises, and does it well. But they never promised that it would recognize more than one voice at a time. It transcribes any voice that it’s been trained to recognize splendidly. But it handles only one voice at a time.

Faced with the tedium of typing and having spent $200 for the best voice-recognition software available, I still hoped for a shortcut—a way to get the words from audio to text format without pounding them into the keyboard. I asked around a bit and found it. A blogger named Dan Broadnitz suggested dictating the interviews into NaturallySpeaking as I listened to the recordings. I tried it. I donned a headset-with-microphone and played an interview with Sony’s Digital Voice Editor software (included with my Sony recorder). As I listened to the interview, I echoed back the subject’s responses into the microphone.

It worked! Trained to my voice, NaturallySpeaking faithfully transcribed the interviews. No stopping, no backing up. If the speech was too fast for me to echo, I slowed the playback. Quite often, just a few words would jog my memory of an interview enough that I could repeat entire sentences before I heard them.

Once the interview text was in place, I cleaned up the transcription errors (10 to 15 percent of the text). Then it was time to polish the text, culling out hesitations and misstatements, getting sentences into shape, and combining related sections of the text. I was careful to preserve the meaning, vocabulary, and speech pattern of each individual.
(Note: Only one of the interviews in this book was conducted by e-mail, at the interviewee’s request. See if you can figure out which one it is.)
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Writing Blogging Heroes, Part 3 (Logistics)

In Part 2 of this series, I talked about selecting and contacting the interviewees for Blogging Heroes. The interviews themselves would be conducted by telephone because the book’s schedule permitted no traveling.

Why didn’t I just ask questions via e-mail? There’s a tendency for someone replying by e-mail to keep the answers short, whereas a good interview requires lengthy and detailed responses. The same thing applies to instant messaging. But talking is easy. As easy as…well…talking. And a live conversation produces a spontaneous interplay that generates replies that would not happen in e-mail. There’s also the advantage of audio cues. Tone, speed of speech, throat-clearing, laughter, and so forth add a depth of meaning to words that e-mail can never do.

So I worked e-mail, setting up a small list of interview appointments that would quickly become self-culling. I also scored promises from others to set up an appointment “... some time next week.” Okay, I thought, these are busy people, blogging day and night. Plus, the spring trade show season had started. While I was scheduling the interviews, I worked out the rest of the logistics. I had on hand a Sony digital audio recorder, a stable landline digital phone set, and a Radio Shack 43-1237 phone coupler, plus backup equipment. A USB connector would squirt the recordings to my PC’s hard drive. Zip, zap, pow!

The system was in place. I had completed three interviews. Then my interview subjects began dropping like parity bits coming into a serial port. A couple of people cancelled, pleading lack of time. Others who had promised to set something up “next week” asked to set it up the following week, or the week after that.

For some people, it’s difficult to conceive of being too busy to take an hour, or even a half hour, to chat. But more than one of this book’s interviewees were in exactly that situation. When you have several million readers, and maybe a bunch of writers to supervise, it’s can be difficult to break away. But several who really couldn’t spare the time rescheduled something else—for which I will be eternally grateful.

Still, a number of interview subjects did cancel, and there was nothing for it but to dig in and line up more interview subjects. Fortunately there are lots of interesting bloggers who are good writers and have large followings. So I dug in and lined up more interviews. The book is actually the better for it, because I obtained interviews that I wouldn’t have thought about if everything had just fallen into place.

Chasing down the interviews I did get was often a chore. Coordinating schedules—whether across continental time zones or the International Date Line—was the least of the logistical problems. Several subjects forgot about their interview appointments and weren’t available when I called. Reschedule. On at least two occasions, I forgot a telephone appointment. Reschedule. That wasn’t the only human error. There were misaddressed e-mails and wrong numbers. Not all of the interviews recorded properly. Reschedule.

Many of the bloggers were of course using the latest telephone equipment, which of course meant that calls were dropped in new, leading-edge ways. All but one of the dropped calls—some of which had to be resumed at a later date—were in the United States. The only international call dropped was a Skype link to New Zealand. But we were able to pick up the conversation within seconds.

Once I had a few interviews in the can, so to speak, it was time for transcription and editing ...

Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Gillette Printer, Revisited

In this post I talked about the ultra-low-cost Lexmark 2500X printer/scanner/copier. It has received some bad press regards ink consumption, but I was willing to give it a try, especially as I bought it to use as a portable scanner and backup copier.

Sorry to report that the ink consumption is not very impressive. Or, perhaps I should say the quantity of ink provided in a cartridge. I get nowhere near the performance from a twenty-dollar ink cartridge for this printer that I get out of a Hewlett-Packard printer.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quotes from Blogging Heroes

This is obviously a tease for the book, but here are a few of the more interesting quotes from the interviews in Blogging Heroes (there are lots more where these came from) ...
  • "I do my best thinking via my blogs." --Chris Anderson, The Long Tail
  • "For me the future of journalism is blogging." --Mary Jo Foley, All About Microsoft
  • "I'm too busy blogging to ... well, talk about blogging." --Owen Thomas, Valleywag
More anon,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Blogging Heroes Chapter and Comments

Mary Jo Foley, of All About Microsoft has posted her chapter (it's a good one!) She made some very nice comments about the book, too.

Speaking of Mary Jo, keep an eye out for her book, Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era. It's due out in May, and promises to be a book everyone will be citing.

Rock n Roll Fans: Heads Up!

If you're into rock history, you'll want to add this blog to your list: Randy McNutt's Home of the Hits (http://homeofthehits.blogspot.com/). The blog shares Randy's extensive research and experience in the recording industry, and focuses on vintage American recording studios and their productions.

Randy has some impressive credentials in this realm, and is the guy to whom I'd send The History Detectives if they needed a rock historian. Not only has Randy been in the business, but he's chronicled many aspects of the development of rock. He is, for example, the author of The Cincinnati Sound a book I reviewed here some weeks back, but that's only the beginning. His Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated History of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century puts him at the top of the list of experts on recording studios. And these books confirm his knowledge of rock's history:
Check out the blog and Randy's home page for more.

Working Whether You Get Paid or Not ...

Being too ill to work all week, I'm forced to recall with fondness a couple of long-ago jobs where you collected sick pay if you were off work--usually a healthy percentage of your regular pay. You don't get that as a writer. Nor do writers enjoy the luxury of dodging work and coasting that many jobs offer. Rather than getting paid whether they work or not, it all too often works out that writers work without regard to getting paid.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Norman Mailer

I'm watching a rerun of a Charlie Rose interview with Norman Mailer. It looks to be fairly recent. I was struck by how much he looked like his portrayal in Mad Magazine back in the 1960s.

Among other things, Mailer was talking about being 80, and mentioned that he was working on a big novel. "I may finish it, or it may finish me," he remarked.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reliving America's Space Program

I did not read James Michener's Space when it was published in 1982. I supposed I was just too caught up in science fiction. Besides, I lived through the period, beginning as a grade-schooler getting up extra early to watch first the Mercury then the Gemini launches.

Recently someone gave me a copy and, in the absence of anything else to read, I jumped in. Suddenly it was all coming back: the Gemini launches, the hero astronauts, the Apollo missions, the grand plans for DynaSoar, the spinning wheel space station, and all the rest. I decided to review it because it's an interesting read, a mainstream dip into alternative history, and it's a good book for other novelists to read.

Why other novelists? Because the novel has faults, some of them detailed below. These faults can be instructive if you are the kind of writer who stops and thinks, "Okay, how would I rewrite this?" In mentally revising sentences or paragraphs, and you'll probably learn something you can take to your own work.

From the reader's perspective, Space is a solid novel that puts you there and, more importantly, takes you away from the present veil of tears. The range of characters and viewpoints is almost intimidating; as a reader, I had to stop more than once and recall a character's vita when he or she showed up after an extended absence. I think the difficulty had to do with Michener's technique, because I certainly didn't experience this problem with characters in an 11-novel series by Harry Turtledove I recently finished.

Popular though he is, Michener is not a master stylist. Nor is he a writer who handles every transition smoothly. The episodic tales he is telling here render such difficulties almost irrelevant. Plus, there are immense leaps of time and distance involved for which suitable transitions may not have been possible. Besides, such problems are almost to be expected in a novels that opens during the beginnings of rocketry in WWII Germany and winds up in the Space Shuttle era, Space, and also deals with more than a dozen major characters (including the largely offstage Werner von Braun). And some of the "problems" are probably things only another writer would notice. It's still a good read, albeit bumpy at times. Readers are willing to forgive him the rough spots to get at the story.

Backgrounding and character are Michener's greatest strengths in this novel. He gives the reader a good feel for all his locations--Coco Beach, Canaveral, Huntsville, Germany, Houston, the dark side of the Moon, etc., and now and then the spirit of the 1960s space effort washes over you. He follows history closely, and the technical aspects are not overdone, so non-technical readers won't get lost. As for the characters, from Dieter, the German engineer without credentials, and the cowardly German "General," through the homegrown American astronauts and their wives, each character has room to grow and most are carefully delineated by the author. The real people who show up, like Deke Slayton, are rendered believably enough.

I think Michener did himself and the reader a disservice by not getting more into the characters of some of the women. He gives Penny, the political aid who becomes a politician, a great deal of depth, but Debbie Dee (a redneck woman if there ever was one) and other astronauts' wives are sort of moved around and speak their parts without much liberty. Cynthia Rhee, the Korean journalist who was born in Japan comes across as the most realistic of the women, even though her role is a mixed one of groupie, reporter, manipulator, and husband-stealer. Perhaps Michener is enough of a product of his time that he can't use strong women characters.

Even though the novel was published in 1982, I'm surprised there weren't more affairs, but that side of things seems to have been dropped in the lap (so to speak) of good ol' boy astronaut Randy Claggett. Randy's wife Debbie Dee and a couple of the other wives seem to have plenty of motivations and opportunities to jump the fence. Of course, they are constantly under pressure from a media guy to live the image of faithful, All-American Wives, from which each had a lot of gain. (Judging by the characters Michener developed, though, this pressure would have given at least one woman all the more reason to stray.) As you might expect, there are several subplots.

My favorite is one involving a senator's daughter and a con man who plies first the UFO trade, then hippie stuff, and finally becomes a wealthy televangelist, the senator's daughter definately at his side. The senator and his wife are part of an interesting subplot, as well. Which reminds me that I would have written more about the cultural changes outside the space program, but I'm not Michener. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is that Michener plays with alternative history here and there. He substitutes his own characters for some real-world astronauts, and includes a deadly mission to the dark side of the Moon that never happened, but could have. Fascinating stuff! Plus, Michener pays homage to science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.

If nothing else, Space is a great way to relive the opening of the Space Era.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Blogging Heroes

As Joe Wikert notes at his blog, Blogging Heroes continues to pick up buzz. Here are a few of examples:




Also, here's a comment at Mediabistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/web_tech/giving_it_away_in_bits_and_pieces_with_blogger_middlemen_69942

Buzzing with Blogging Heroes

As noted in previous posts, Chris Anderson of The Long Tail, Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing.net, Ina Steiner at AuctionBytes, and others have posted PDF versions of their interviews from Blogging Heroes at their blogs. Moving toward the November 19 pub date, the book's buzz continues as more of the people I interviewed post their chapters.

Here are some recent Blogging Heroes posts:
More to come!
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Blogging Heroes Alternate Cover

In some alternate universe, the image at the left is the cover of Blogging Heroes. I imagine it would have drawn quite a bit of attention. But women seemed to think that the yellow speedos were a bit much.

The real cover for the book, which has an official publication date of November 19 is the more sedate version shown at Amazon.com.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Retro-computer gaming is growing more and more popular. Hundreds of thousands of people who played games such as ZORK, Lode Runner, Oil Barons, and Karateka are downloading games like these and reliving the 1980s and 1990s. (For younger gamers, it's a first-time experience.)

Old games made available for download on the Web are often referred to "abandonware." However, a lot of abandonware is not abandoned; it's just too difficult to enforce the copyright. LucasFilms works to keep its games off abandonware sites, but almost everything seems to pop up sooner or later. I even found an Atari ST version of my 1986 graphic/text adventure game at one site.

The games are largely forgotten, and many of the manufacturers, such as Sierra On-Line and Broderbund, are no more. Hence, the assumption that the games are free to all or "in the public domain." They're definitely not in the public domain; none of the copyrights have run out. A good number of games have been made available by their copyright owners, but not everything out there is in this category.

I mention this in part because there are probably readers who would enjoy some of the old games--those legitimately made available. To find them, Google "abandonware." I also mention it because I think that many of the oldies could be reintroduced and marketed successfully. In their heyday, these games had a short shelf-life because the market was constantly on the lookout for something new, and only those games that were mega-sellers were kept around. (Sounds a lot like the mass-market paperback market.)

Then there's the possibility of books becoming "abandonware." Thousands of out-of-copyright classics are now e-books (see Project Gutenberg). But I'm beginning to wonder how long it is before more contemporary books are given the reputation of being "abandoned," and start appearing at download sites. It takes some effort to scan and OCR an entire book (300 pages or more), but some people are willing to do it. And once the genie is out of the bottle--once a book's content is on the Web--you can't put it back. Pirated ebook versions of commercial bestsellers are already being sold on the Web and on eBay (The Da Vinci Code is just one example). If publishers don't try to stop this, I foresee hardcopy books going that way next. As soon as scammers are willing to put some work into intellectual property theft, we're done.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Writing Blogging Heroes, Part 2 (Questions and Contacts)

(Note: Part 1 of this series is here.)

When I knew I was going to write Blogging Heroes, the first thing that came to me was, “What questions am I going to ask? What should I discuss with bloggers?” Some questions were obvious—simple icebreakers such as, “How long have you been blogging?” and “Why did you get into blogging?” From there the conversation would work into more complex matters, such as getting traffic, ethics, maintaining quality, dealing with difficulties, and more. Gradually, a small list of questions evolved. (I could omit blog statistics; easily accessible sources like Technorati and Alexa would supply those. Why copy material that was readily available for free? Besides, I was more interested in the people behind the blogs than the numbers.)

Other questions would suggest themselves during the course of each interview. In other words, the shape of the interviews would be determined by the interviews themselves.

The next step was to find 30 people to interview. I looked around at who was doing what in the blogosphere. I consulted the Technorati lists, Digg, Alexa, and other resources to get an idea of which blogs were really popular, and which may have simply gamed the system to get on a list. Sifting through the more active and popular blogs, I came up with a list of interesting blogs in several categories. I read the blogs to get an idea of each blogger’s style and background. I also looked for buzz about other popular bloggers and their blogs. Links from some of the blogs I was reading pointed to additional candidates for interviews. Still more were suggested by my editors and the interviewees themselves. And I chose several bloggers because they were different, and not the same old faces from the Top 100 lists.

The interviews would be just the beginning of the process. I would have to do extensive background research (more than simply reading blogs) for the introduction to each blogger. This often resulted in follow-up questions and revisions.

Initial contacts were made via e-mail. I explained the book and my mission, and invited the subject to be in the book. I didn’t always get an answer the first time, even though I was careful to make it clear that I was a legitimate author looking to interview people for a new book.

Sometimes it took two or three tries to get past spam blocks or to just get someone’s attention. When the first message didn’t get a reply and I really wanted to talk to the person, I switched to a more interesting subject header than:
May I interview you for a new book?

Instead, I used the tongue-in-cheek approach and sent messages with subject headers like:
I need to interview a blogger of great skill and cunning.
So-and-so tells me you are a crafty blogger with great powers.

Those usually pulled in replies. Some were entertaining. Like one from the editor of Valleywag.com, who replied, “I’ve been too busy blogging to ... well, talk about blogging." But gradually I built up a list of interviewees. Never mind that half of them would disappear and that making connection would be as difficult as herding cats. More on that in the next installment.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Books by the Banks and Crosley

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of signing a whole bunch of copies of Crosley at the "Books by the Banks" event at Cincinnati's Duke Energy Convention Center. 2,000 readers and over 80 other book authors were there, and mixing with so many readers and writers made for a great time. Plans are afoot for repeating it next year.

Thanks to wearing a Cincinnati Reds jersey with CROSLEY on the back, I found myself in Sunday's edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I also got a T-shirt with the event's logo. (Perhaps I'll have T-shirts for my other book titles made up.)

More than all that, I collected still more Crosley memories, such as the stories of decades-ago trips to Crosley Field that the lady in the Enquirer photo shared. Click the logo to learn more about the event, which wasn't named after me, but the banks of the Ohio River.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"Inventing" Your Book?

You've probably considered the merits of self-publishing your book versus finding a publisher. Regular readers know that I lean in the direction of working with an established publisher. I've done dozens of books that way. But, though some of us cranks hate to admit it, there is a trend toward self-publishing. I don't believe that self-publishing and "author control" will make bad books succeed, but there are some writers who have been wildly successful serving niche markets through self-publishing (mostly with good books). Self-publishing is not an automatic route to success, as much as book printers and pay-to-publish operations may want you to think that. Some good books have failed at self-publishing, too.

Anyway, the current issue of Entrepreneur Magazine has an interesting article titled "How to 'Invent' Your Book." (Thanks to Joe Wikert for posting about this in his blog.) Tamara Monosoff, who wrote the article, has herself written a couple of books and explains in useful and mostly accurate detail how each process--self-publishing and conventional publishing--work, along with the relative benefits and drawbacks.

Monosoff does get one thing wrong. She says, "Very few publishers today accept unsolicited or un-agented manuscripts." This is true for outfits like Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, and Houghton-Mifflin (though some of their subsidiaries accept unsolicited manuscripts), but there are hundreds of publishers who do accept unsolicited manuscripts. And they're not all tiny shops that have poor distribution and pay thousand-dollar advances. It is true that a few editors will talk only with agents, but you can sell your book yourself. Don't take to heart Monosoff's recommendation that you find an agent rather than try to market your work on your own.

If you feel you must have an agent because you fear negotiating and dealing with contracts, pick up a copy of How to Be Your Own Literary Agent, by agent Richard Curtis. Still want an agent? Start shopping, but be aware that you will be holding up the potential publication of your book as you wait for agents to say "No." And most will say "No." Getting an agent is frustrating, time-consuming work. Just to be on the safe side, shop your manuscript(s) to publishers yourself while you're waiting for agents.

Perhaps my perspective is a bit skewed because acquired books for publishers, agented for other writers, and used an agent for only one book out of 42. But it's true that you can sell your own work to a decent publisher, and that self-publishing is not an automatic route to success, for good books or bad.

That aside, do read Ms. Monosoff's article.

Obnoxious Self-Promotion Revisited

I was reading the comments on posts at a certain blog recently and noticed one commenter whose signature line read, "Author of the xxxx series, http://blah,blah/." At the beginning of the post, the name carried similar credits.

This struck me as being in poor taste, particularly because the xxxx series had absolutely nothing to do with the subject under discussion. In fact, I found it obnoxious, akin to going around wearing a sign that says, "I am the author of xxxx." Or maybe interrupting a serious conversation about nuclear weapons with, "Hey--I wrote these novels! Have a look!"

If the post on which this writer was commenting had something in common with the xxxx series, I could maybe see citing the novels in support of a comment. But here it was as if the largely unknown author of a series of western novels was commenting on a post about the market for microprocessors and presenting proficiency in westerns as credentials.

Yes, I know the author is trying to get noticed. But how many books does she sell with a signature line? None. How many people does she put off by bragging about something totally unrelated to the subject at hand? More than a few, if she comments on blog posts very often.

I would like to say to this writer, "At this point in your career, your series title means little, so there's no reason to append it to your name. By the time it comes to mean something, people will know your name and there'll be no need to mention it." But I won't, because it would only result in hurt feelings. But--really--did Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King or Tom Clancy or Janet Evanovich ever append "Author of xxxx" to their names--or carry around a sign listing their book titles?

Let your name and your comments stand on their own. Leave a URL after your name so if people want to know more about you they can. If you need to establish credentials in a discussion, cite your relevant book or other credits. Waving your titles around every time you speak says that you lack confidence in yourself and your comments. Leave promotion for other venues.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An Unconventional Resource for Writers

The next time you're researching, take some time to explore this unconventional resource: people who know nothing about your subject. In among visits to the library, Googling until you have cartoon eyes, interviewing experts, and visiting relevant Web sites, just chat with anyone willing to talk about the subject.

If you're writing a biography of Amelia Earhart, for example, mention it to your neighbor. It's likely that she will have something to say about Earhart. It might be as simple as, "I wonder if she was really lost?" or "I wonder if she married Putnam because he would finance her career?" Get enough such responses from the uninformed and you'll begin to build a profile of your reader in dimensions you may not have explored. And some people will surprise you by knowing something about your subject. When I was working on the Crosley biography, I mentioned it to quite a few people who were able to tell me things that I wouldn't have known otherwise (like the fact that Lewis Crosley had a mistress). Try it: I think you'll find that it opens new doors.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Scattered Consciousness ...

"A Scattered Consciousness ..." I don't know whether that reads like the title of a biography or a novel. But as I'm using it here, it describes the state of mind I get into not long after I sign a book contract. My attention starts wandering, and I begin thinking about new projects.

This usually happens early in the writing process, as opposed to near the end, when I've reached the point of subject-overload and just want to be done with the manuscript at hand. I believe part of what's behind the wandering thoughts is this: I've put a lot into getting the contract, and there is some part of me that regards it as a major goal, on a par with completing a book. So I get a signal to go on to the next project--that's what one does when a goal is achieved, after all.

Some part of my mind is saying, "Okay, you were working for a goal, and you've made it! Let's move on to the next thing." And I start looking for the next thing.

I've watched myself get into and out of this state of mind before, and I've learned that what really is distracting me is the sense of triumph one gets from achieving a goal. Along with that sense of triumph comes a feeling of not having to work on anything connected with goal, because the goal has been achieved. But I must reorient myself so that the goal I've just reached is not the goal. What works for me is to wait a week or two and not really force myself to work on the new book. Gradually the feeling of triumph wears off, and I'm able feel emotionally that what I've achieved is but a step toward the final goal--the completed manuscript.

If you find yourself stuck after you get a book contract or magazine assignment, take a look at your attitudes. Emotionally, you may be mistaking steps on your journey as the destination.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

AuctionBytes and Blogging Heroes

If you're really into auctions, you are probably familiar with AuctionBytes. (If not, you should be.) AuctionBytes is the number one news and how-to site for those who are into online auctions. It features all sorts of news and helpful advice. There are how-to articles about selling strategies, features on popular collectibes, and a plethora of other useful material.

AuctionBytes is a partnership of David and Ina Steiner. Ina writes the AuctionBytes blog, and I interviewed her for Blogging Heros. You can read her comments on the book, plus see her interview in PDF format by clicking here.

On the Road as a Writer

If you write about a popular subject or have a bestseller, people often invite you to give a talk to their group. Now and then you may be asked to speak on writing (just about my favorite subject), but usually your non-fiction book's subject or your novel's characters and plot are what people want to hear about.

This post is going to more local than not, as it has mostly to do with local speaking engagements. Lately, I seem to be giving a talk just about every four days. Two weeks ago I spoke to a large and enthusiastic inventors' group (about 80 people) at the Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Myers, Florida. In addition to Crosley, they wanted to hear about intellectual property rights--a subject I hope to address again sometime. Last week I was at the Green Twp. branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati Public Library, a large, modem facility with an avid history group. I had an attentive audience of 50 and for the first time tried out my slide show of Crosley photos--WLW, the Reds, Crosley radios, Crosley cars, etc. (Many thanks to Marya Hunt!)

Monday of this week I was scheduled to speak at Miami University's Art Museum, part of a Noon luncheon series put on by the Miami University Institute for Lifelong Learning. I was violently ill and had transportation problems late in the morning, and was 25 minutes late, I'm embarrassed to say. I really regret not getting to address the gorup of 100 or more. My sincere apologies to those who came to hear about Crosley.

Botanist Dr. Hardy Eshbauw stepped in for me, and presented an excellent program, the last half of which I was able to see and hear. Fortunately I was able to talk with some of my prospective audience, and met a lady in her 80s whose mother dated Powel Crosley, Jr., as well as an engineer who was quite knowledgable about Crosley's airplanes, so it wasn't a total loss.

This Saturday, I will be at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati as a part of the "Books by the Banks" program (yes, nice of them to name it after me), where I'll get to do something I really enjoy: meet other writers. Click here to learn about the program; if you're in the Cincinnati area, maybe I'll see you there! (After Noon.) I'm particularly looking forward to this event because there will be over 80 other writers attending. I'm sure we'll all get in lots of networking and gossiping about publishers and writers who aren't there!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Continuing Research and Slants

Once you write about a subject, you never stop learning about it unless you make a conscious effort. This is why I've found it easy to continue writing on some subjects for magazines. New information often seems to seek me out (as happens with CROSLEY), and there are always more research paths leading off those I've explored.

Although most books are not updated, new information is useful in writing magazine articles, and in fact often inspires articles. I've been able to write about Crosley, for example, in a number of special-interest publications because of research I've done since the Crosley biography came out. These include automotive, aviation, and engineering magazines. (Some of these I was writing for before I began writing the book.) For each article I had a different slant, focusing on Crosley airplanes, inventions, whatever was of interest to the magazines in question.

Note that I do not excerpt the book (although CROSLEY was excerpted in Cincinnati Magazine's March, 2007, issue). Simply recycling old information gets boring, which makes one's writing stale. Bringing in new information keeps things interesting, as does emphasizing certain information when you're slanting for an audience. Another subject from which I've gotten a lot of mileage is a replica of a 10th-Century Norman castle near where I live called Chateau Laroche. Chateau Laroche (also known as "the Loveland Castle") is one of those wacky projects that was the life's work of a single individual, a guy who began with a one-room shelter in 1929 and continued building until he had the enormous structure shown above. (It's located in Loveland, Ohio.)

I've sold 27 articles on the Loveland Castle over the years, always with photos, and always slanted for a certain audience. For a general-interest magazine I emphasized the builder's personality. For a home-builder's magazine I talked about the structure's unusual features. And 30 years after I wrote my first article on the castle, new information still turns up, inspiring me to write more articles. A little research now and then--perhaps looking into other one-man castles around the country, or reading about the architecture of the period this castle imitates--suggests slants, too. The same is true when I talk with people who have visited the castle; the reactions of several people to a subject often suggests a new direction or slant.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"I've Got a Great Idea ..."

Let it be known that you're a writer and sooner or later someone will come to you and say, "I've got a great idea for a novel/nonfiction book. You write it and we'll split the money!"

Most of you will chuckle at that, because you know that coming up with an idea is easy. The hard part is doing something worthwhile with the idea. You have to determine who your audience is, and how you'll approach them. How much background will that audience need, and how can you deliver it? And then there's the real work of shaping and trimming your words into a viable manuscript. After which you edit and rewrite, then edit some more. The idea is the least part of it.

Still, there are folks who seem to think that all it takes is an idea, and that the rest is easy. The next time someone approaches you with the generous offer of allowing you to play them to use their idea, tell them that you can't listen to their idea because real writers collaborate only with published writers. Suggest that they read some how-to books on writing, and come back to you after they have published. I guarantee you won't hear anything more on the subject.
Cropyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Distributed Book Promotion

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, was among the bloggers I interviewed for Blogging Heroes. In this post at his blog, Anderson notes several synergestic elements inherent to the book. First, in creating a book of interviews, I appealed to the ego of the participants--and thereby much of the content is in the "user-generated" category. (Not that it was a walk in the park to get the interviews together, as I've discussed here, here, and here.)

To promote the book, the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, provided each blogger with a PDF copy of the chapter in which she or he is interviewed--and permission to post the chapter. The bloggers are willing to promote the book by posting the chapters because they are promoting themselves at the same time. Chris makes the point that in giving away chunks of the book in this way, Wiley is "harnessing the combined distribution (and ego) of the prominent bloggers that are featured in the book." (Credit is due publisher Joe Wikert for most of this, by the way.)

Will the promotion work? Time will tell. I'll keep you posted with periodic updates here. Meanwhile, I hope you'll have a look at a chapter or two.

A Real Masterpiece!

I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that I once wrote back-cover copy for paperback novels at a hundred bucks a shot. Having struggled to crank out evocative copy from a quick look at a manuscript, I've always considered it a cop-out when I see back-cover copy and front pages filled with nothing but quotes from reviewers and other authors--most of them excerpted from longer sentences. A few examples:
  • "... a real masterpiece ..."
  • "... a shining example of quality literature ..."
  • "The best thing the author has ever written ..."
I often wonder what the cover-copy writers left out. I like to imagine the original quotes were something like these (excerpted lines in bold):
  • "If this novel had been written by anyone else, it would have been a real masterpiece."
  • "Anyone who calls this a shining example of quality literature is nuts!"
  • "The best thing the author has ever written was a short story published in 1975. He hasn't turned out anything worthwhile since!"
Okay, that's funny! Less funny are the attempts to link a book by an unknown writer with work by a known writer. To me, it's like a fake promise, to the effect, "You'll like this as much as the other book." It's the same kind of pimping that goes on with films. "From the director of..." "Starring the lead from ...". The idea is to get you to go see or buy the film thinking it will be the same experience as the director or actors' previous film. That can never be. It's not the same story, not the same actors, not the same setting. But all that is a subject for another post.
Copyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

Friday, October 26, 2007

Writing Blogging Heroes, Part 1 (Getting Started)

(Note: Want to sample Blogging Heroes? You can read the chapter with video-blogger Steve Garfield's interview at Steve's blog, http://offonatangent.blogspot.com/. Also, Chris Anderson has posted his interview: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2007/10/a-free-chapter-.html)

Blogging Heroes is complete. I spent part of September going over the galleys and answering a few last-minute editorial and production questions. The cover looks good, and I assume the whole package will be sent to the printer any time now.

While we're waiting for copies, I'd like to talk about writing Blogging Heroes.

As a rule, projects that are simple in appearance turn out to have all sorts of complications. If you’ve ever built a deck or planned a cross-country trip, you know that. This book is a good example. Asking a bunch of bloggers questions about blogging, and putting the questions and answers into a book seems simple enough. But, as I knew going in, there was far more to it than that.

You can't go with bare Q and A. That's rarely attractive. More often than not, it’s boring—like reading a deposition. Interviews (one per chapter) require careful editing, to smooth out the hesitations, stutterings, repetitions, you know's, and the other little peculiarities of human speech that make transcriptions difficult to read. And each interview must read like a conversation. Chapters would need an introduction, with background about the blog and relevant biographical material on the blogger. I felt confident enough about that part (the last biography I wrote made The New York Times bestseller list).

Then there would be the Introduction, and various other front matter and back matter elements. (The publisher would find an indexer to create the Index. That was just as well; indexing is a specialized skill. Check out a book titled Indexing Books, by Nancy C. Mulvany, to see what I mean.)

That gave me the skeleton. I knew that the really difficult parts would come later, in the form of a seemingly endless series of complications, unforeseen events, and peculiar little problems that accompany the writing of just about any book.

This one would turn out to have some peculiar problems, indeed--largely because writing it depended on other people. The more people you add to anything, the greater the chances of things going wrong--or at least in unforeseeable directions. And I had several dozen people to deal with in writing this book.

Before I finished, I would feel like the guy who said, "It's hard to remember that you started out to drain the swamp when you're up to your knees in alligators!"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blogging Heroes Sample Chapter: Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing.Net

If you would like to sample Blogging Heroes, click here to read Chapter 9, an interview/profile with Mark Frauenfelder, which Mark has posted at BoingBoing.net.

Unexpected Effects of Books

I use eBay for research--buying books, magazines, and other items relevant to my writing subjects, after which I resell them (almost always at a loss or break-even point). I also wrote a book about using eBay successfully, titled The eBay Survival Guide. So I have spent hundreds of hours at the site and have become sensitive to the ebb and flow of certain kinds of merchandise.

In recent years I've been able to tie part of that ebb and flow to the appearance of books. For example, early in 2007 I saw a definite increase in the the number of Crosley items on eBay. That includes cars and auto-related items, appliances, radios, books, magazines, etc. The number dropped off by about 20 percent as 2007 closed.

The increase was probably due to the publication of CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, which came out in November, 2006. The decrease was the result of the market having been largely satisfied by more Crosley-aware sellers putting more Crosley items up for sale.

There was also a price spike in the first half of 2007. But I observed a definite trend toward lower prices as the number of Crosley items offered fell. The Simplicity of Radio, by Powel Crosley, Jr., for example, now sells for a quarter of what it brought in a couple of years ago. The price decrease is most likely caused by the market-saturation phenomenon behind the drop in the number of Crosley items on eBay.

A couple years ago I watched another book, titled Barclay Toys, Transports & Cars, 1932-1971 bring hundreds of items to eBay--Barclay slush-mold toy cars and the like. The numbers for Barclay items are still up, and so are the prices, though not dramatically so.

I'll be following this phenomenon as other books on collectibles and history (including two of mine coming out in 2008) hit the market. This could lead to a new marketing strategy for eBayers: if you have a large collection of a specific kind of item, try to get a book for collectors on the market, to increase awareness and drive up demand. And if you're going to write a book on collectibles, or about a famous person or historical events, think about stocking up on related collectibles, so you can cash in after your book comes out.

Feel Bad About Your Desk?

Have a look at mine. I don't know how I get anything done, either. Yours is probably far less cluttered, but if it's not, don't worry: I'm proof that one can get things done in this kind of environment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fun with Telemarketers

Telemarketing from international call centers is annoying a lot of people. I say it's time we get something out of all the hassle. The next time you get a call from someone who has to struggle to pronounce your name, have some fun!

How? Well, you could offer an elocution lesson, something I've done. When you answer the phone and the guy on the other end asks for someone like "Deeblah" and you know they want to talk to Debra, stop 'em cold and say, "No. Hold up, man, you got it all wrong! Try this: say 'urr.'" Insist that they say it, then tell them, "Now, say "Deb-urr-ah." Bug 'em until they get it right or hang up.

Or you could pretend to be someone else, maybe a telephone repairman or a visiting relative. Once when I got a call from someone with a heavy accent asking for me, I announced, "No, I'm sorry. I'm his brother, Bob. I'm here fixing some plumbing problems, because he hates plumbing. You know that 3/8-inch soft copper water line? Yeah, once I came over and the idiot was laying on his back under the house trying to solder some of this pipe--in a snowstorm! I laughed my butt off and he got really mad at me ..."

If you know another language--other than one the caller probably speaks--you have another avenue for fun. Just say anything, like, "No hablo Inglis, pero comprendo poquito si tu habla mas despacio ..." Anything will do; just be sure to speak rapidly.

If enough of us do this, the clowns back here in the USA behind these campaigns may just give them up.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ghost-Writing the Work of a Favorite Author

As noted elsewhere, I've written several collaborative novels and non-fiction books. I also ghosted a book. The collaborative novels included The Odysseus Solution with Dean Lambe, and two with Mack Reynolds. Among the non-fiction titles were a word processing book and a telecom book written with Jerry Pournelle, Pournelle's PC Communications Bible. and, of cousre, CROSLEY.

My ghost-writing credit was the 1986 book Rogue Bolo, by Keith Laumer. I'll explain how I came to write the book, but first a few words about Laumer and his "Bolo" series. Rogue Bolo was one of a series of novels and story collections about immense, self-aware fighting machines--the descendents of today's tanks--that Laumer created back in the 1960s. (He was also noted for the creation of Jame Retief, interplanetary diplomat who was sort of a future James Bond with a sense of humor).

The typical Bolo story is told through viewpoints, including that of one or more Bolos. Much is put into showing how powerful and invulnerable these machines are. Bolos can ravage continents, and have a masterful knowledge of military strategy, tactics, and history. Scenes from war are few; many tales involve a Bolo awakening (or being awakened) from a completely powered-down state with minimal reserve power. The awakened Bolo is often missing part of its memory, and believes it is still in a battle zone or has been tricked by the enemy into thinking the war is over. It is ready for action, even though it may have been buried under tons of rock and dirt or set up as a monument after being deactivated. The trouble begins as soon as the Bolo awakens and decides it must take action. Sometimes the action is prompted by the memory loss, and sometimes by an outside stimulus that may or may not be an enemy from the past ...

I wrote this sort of by default. Laumer had had a series of incapacitating strokes, and publisher Jim Baen asked me if I knew the Bolo series, and did I think I could write like Laumer. I had of course been reading Laumer since the 1960s, and the Bolo series was one of my favorites. Baen had already scheduled the book, and it was obvious that Laumer would not recover in time to complete the manuscript on schedule.

Baen gave me the 20 or so pages of manuscript Laumer had completed, along with a partial outline, and I took it from there. My name would not appear on the cover, nor anywhere else in connection with the book; Laumer, Baen told me, would have gone berserk. Besides, because Bolos were Laumer trademark, my name on the cover would only have confused readers.

Luckily for me, Keith Laumer was a fairly straightforward writer with a competent workman-like approach to style. And I knew his work as well as I knew Heinlein or Clarke, having read it for years and years. I kept my collection of old Bolo stories close to hand to help me hew to Laumer's style, and whenever I was in doubt about how to write a scene I found something similar in an existing Bolo work to serve as a guide.

Laumer used a few unusual techniques in the Bolo series, but they were easy to analyze. There was a lot of viewpoint shifting, enough that a long tale might have 200 or more chapters, one for each viewpoint. This technique was also used to drop in background that would have required a lot of gratuitious narrative; instead of having a character explain matters, or writing a lengthy backstory, Laumer would drop in a news story excerpt, a few lines from an interview, someone's military report, a scene with a couple of walk-ons, whatever--and that would be a chapter. With the current story narrative (including dialogue) strung among these background chapter-ettes, the story grew step by small step.

The Bolos themselves were the point and carried the story, but at least one other major character (normally human) was part of the tale. Recurring bit-part characters like Georgius Imperator and Lord Margrave filled in background and at times moved the story along. The result might be light-hearted or sentimental, but it was always fun.

When I first read Laumer's work in my teens, I would have laughed at the thought that I might some day be writing under Laumer's name; it's just not the kind of thing one thinks about. I like to think that I wrote it as Laumer would have (he passed away not long after the book came out). Save for a few personalizations--names of people I know for characters, for example--the book stands in the tradition of Keith Laumer.
Copyright � 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, October 20, 2007

October, November, and December Speaking Engagements

For those who may be interested, I have these speaking engagements coming up in October, November, and December:

At each talk, I'll be sharing new facts and stories about Crosley autos, radios, the Crosleys themselves, and more. I'm bringing a number of Crosley artifacts from my collection to each program. Here's the tentative lineup for 2008:

  • In April, 2008, I will be giving a talk at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio Convention.
  • May 2-4, 2008, I'm doing a Crosley presentation at the Early Television Convention, in Hilliard, Ohio.
  • June 6 & 7, 2008 I am the keynote speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club's annual gathering (this is a large regional organization). Unless something else gets in the way, I hope to be at the Crosley Automobile Club's annual meet in July. More to come.
    In the meantime, listen for me on WLW.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Green Township Branch Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, 7:00 PM. Tom Miller will be there with his 1948 Crosley Station Wagon! (No charge. Call 369-6095 to register.)