Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Will Happen when Bill Gates No Longer Runs Micosoft?

Many of you who follow Microsoft or work in the tech industry are readers of Mary Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog at ZDNet. Mary Jo has been covering Microsoft in print and online for two decades and is the last word on the company and its effects on the world as we know it.

Now she's taking a step farther out to give readers a look at the future of Microsoft in a book titled Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era (her first book). The book was inspired by the upcoming changing of the guard at Microsoft, when Bill Gates hands off the reins of the behemoth he created. (The transition is scheduled for June, 2008.)

How will this affect those who buy from, supply, work for, or compete with Microsoft? Read Microsoft 2.0. Mary Jo is still working on the book (scheduled for Spring, 2008), she is open to any suggestions or contributions for the book.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another Book Completed!

I finished writing a book titled Blogging Heroes some weeks ago, but my job wasn't complete until this past week. Those of you who have published books know what I mean. After (and during) the writing, there were questions, changes, and corrections from the editor and copyeditor to consider. Then the book went to production, and they had questions. The cover and cover copy came in (more than once) to review and comment on. Then came a small flurry of last-minute questions. This is good; it means the Production Editor is doing a professional job.

I haven't had any of those for four days now. so I infer that my part is done.
At this point I have proofs of the book (marked-up PDF files) and an image of the cover. The next thing I should see is a bound book. Meanwhile, I've printed out the galleys and will put them in a binder with the manuscript for my collection.

The process goes faster than it did before computers. Word processing speeds up the writing, of course, and there's no need to have a typesetter key in the manuscript, if you can imagine that. Illustrations and galleys can be sent via E-mail in minutes, rather than the one-day minimum imposed by overnight delivery services. Writers with questions or answers to questions don't have to wait to catch the editor or production manager by phone; E-mail allows the writer and editor to work on their own schedules.

I do miss getting the marked-up manuscript and "dead matter" back from the publisher at the end of it all. Ditto, the galleys (or "blues"). But overall putting a book together is such a streamlined process that I can't imagine doing it any other way. The only thing that hasn't changed is the wait for the finished product. Target dates are set for getting printed copies, and for publication, but they're never quite exact. Blogging Heroes, my forty-second book, is set for publication in early December. I expect (hope) to see printed copies by mid-November.

Having wrapped up this book, I'm at work on some magazine articles on broadcast history and classic cars, while planning a couple of new books. Both are histories--one a biography of WLW star Ruth Lyons, and the other a history of the pre-Web Internet.
(NOTE, October 1: Since writing this I received one more question from the Production Editor, Liz Britten. This is going to be a good book.)
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Radio and Rock: Recommended Reading

I often write about broadcast history, and I'm always pleased to find a book that can add to my knowledge of the subject. Such a book is Something in the Air by Marc Fisher. This 375-page hardcover is a look at the growth of radio in the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of the star deejays, storytellers, rock, underground radio, and more.

But it's not just a chronicle of who did what to whom. It's loaded with well-written anecdotes of the "Wow--that's something!" variety. The tale of the hoax book I, Libertine, perpetrated by Jean Shepherd and ghosted by one of fiction's master writers, Theodore Sturgeon, is worth the cost of the book.

But don't mistake this for a simple collection of stories of freaky people who made their names in radio. Those stories are there, but the book as a whole is concerned with following the evolution of radio--in the public perception, legally, commercially, and ethically. As such, it is an important work. And for the writers out there, Something in the Air is a fine example of how to create a social chronicle using personal stories as building blocks, cemented by facts, narrative and a touch of one's own viewpoint.

Fisher gets a few of the facts wrong, but you can overlook those in favor of the history and the enlightening, entertaining anecdotes. The whole thing reads smoothly--Fisher's a fine writer, skilled at narrative. If you're looking for a good non-fiction read, one of those books that draws you in and keeps things fascinating, this is it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Self-Referencing and Self-Study

I must have hit some sort of milestone this year, for I found myself looking up facts in one of my own books from the 1980s. I guess that's to be expected, because a couple of my books were the leading titles in their subject areas back then.

That prompted me to read some of my old work from the 1970s, and most of it turned out to be better than I imagined. An article on electric cars that I wrote in 1977, for example, could be published today, and I wouldn't change a word.

But I still found many things that could be changed. And in general I found my old fiction to be a bit less readable than my nonfiction. Perhaps that's because I'm more critical of the writing in fiction, the form being part of the content.

That inspired me to do some comparisons between my old and current work. I picked out a few stylistic tricks that I hadn't been aware I was using. (All of which will go into my book on writing style and technique.) Try it yourself.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Research Tip: Use eBay to Browse Old Magazine Contents

In the old (pre-Internet) days, The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature was one of the top two or three most valuable research tools for writers. Carrying bibliographic listings for every article in every issue of selected magazines, The Reader's Guide was the starting point for research on almost anything. Its only limitation was that it did covered only high-circulation, well-established, and predominately mainstream magaiznes were included.

Today the Internet offers a variety of resources for tracking down articles on specific subjects. But The Reader's Guide remains a viable resource. I find it particularly useful when I'm researching historical topics; I can go back and find all articles on a given topic in 1938, for example. I'm fortunate to have access to the back editions through the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Unfortunately, most libraries don't keep decades of old Reader's Guides. Fortunately, you can access those old editions online (back to 1890) if you're affiliated with a college or library that subscribes to the service. Click here for more info.

But those institutional subscripions are pricey and odds are you probably don't have access to The Reader's Guide. Don't despair; you can still search out articles on specific topics (or by certain authors)--and in a wider range of magazines than old editions of The Reader's Guide cover. After Googling your subject, search eBay. More often than not people selling magazine back issues there list the articles and stories in each publication they offer. When I was researching CROSLEY, I turned up dozens of useful articles through eBay searches. Seller listings pointed me to magazines from the 1920s and 1930s that I would never have found otherwise. (And thanks to the archives of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's Magazines and Newspapers Department, I didn't have to buy most of them.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Business Groupies?

I just came over, where I was reading about the umpteenth book written by a self-made multimillionaire, this one a woman. Now, if you look at the business/entreprenur and self-help lists, everyone is a self-made millionaire. There are so many of them, you have to wonder who's left to buy their books.

I expected something different from this book because it's written by a woman. Maybe, I thought, she'll have something realistic to say, something other than stuff from the "think and grow rich" genre, investment advice and so forth. Something other than the usual bullshit, in other words.

Nope. A very succienct review of this book notes, "... the author's real passion is for recounting her affairs with various billionaires." The fluff from Publishers Weekly echoes this, talking about her "... dating Bill Gates to learn confidence." hahahahahahahaha! ROFL LMAO and all that jazz. Whew! Looks like a safe bet that nobody is going to be able to replicate this woman's approach to success!

If you'll pardon the expression, she blew her chance to consumate her avowed purpose of helping young people get ahead. From the reviews and the parts of the book I've read, this is not a book that will help you get ahead in your career. It's one of those books that results from too many friends saying, "Ooh! What an exciting life you've had--all those fascinating people you met! You should write a book!"

What Am I Doing Here?

I wanted to title this "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Keyboard," but I couldn't think of a way to justify the title. Perhaps another time ...

One of the main reasons I post here is to float material from a book that may or may not be titled The Real Writing Life. But that's maybe a quarter of the postings. Otherwise, this blog is largely self-entertainment, so it's not all that serious. But I do have a serious need to share some of the experiences of living life as a writer who has no other income. (What's that? The ads here? AdSense says it owes me five bucks for the past 10 months' clicks. The point of AdSense isn't to make ten million dollars while I sleep. The point is research, though it would be nice to make ten million dollars while I sleep, like the books promise. What the heck--I sleep too much, anyway!)

Bits of what I have to share could be important to some people. It depends on who you are and what you're doing. Maybe my advice on collaboration (still to come), or tales of getting ripped off or quicky ways to get magazine assignments will benefit a few readers. If so, good. If not ... well, I hope some of this is entertaining.

Anyway, there's a lot more to come. I haven't gotten to the groupies yet, nor the big "I told you so" from my seventh-grade English teacher. Then there's surviving the theft of a quarter-million dollars, being ostracized by certain family members with Appalachian antecedents, what it's really like to have 200 people waiting for your autograph, and lots more, some of which hasn't happened yet.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Working on the Road in the "Old Days"

Back in the late 1970s I was still working a full-time job and writing on the side. My writing income was approaching half my job income, and taking less than half as long to earn, but I hadn't given any thought to writing fulltime (that wouldn't come up until 1981).

As I had small children then, it was typical to take a vacation trip during the summer, in addition to getting to several science fiction conventions each year. (This was during my annual vacation from my job.) One year I had a two-week trip set up. First a con, then a day and a half at Mammoth Caves, followed by two in Nashville, then a week in the North Carolina mountains, driving all the way. (I think we spent a day at Redstone Arsenal during that trip, too.)

But I had magazine assignments and other work to do. So I put my Smith-Corona non-portable electric typewriter in the car trunk and off we went. I put off working until we were settled in for the week in North Carolina, though. There were too many interesting things to do, and lots of (enjoyable) driving, during the first week. I got a lot of work done, but looking back I hardly believe I loaded up the heavy beast (along with paper and envelopes, etc.) and took it with me. Just a few years later I would be toting a TRS-80 Model 100 slab computer and silently working with that--what a difference!

Turn a Dial to Set the Price You Pay for a Book with Advertising

The latest experiment in E-Books has the reader selecting the quantity of advertising in a book as it is printed by a POD device. You can read about it here, at Joe Wikert's blog. He has a link to more info on the subject.

This might take off fast as a novelty, then slow down a bit. I think the average paperback novel reader would accept advertising in exchange for a reduced price--or no price. But I don't believe there will be enough advertisers to support the concept in a big way. There are already so many other advertising venues that it would seem the advertisers' budgets can't stretch any more. But then, I don't know everything about advertising.

For a look at free downloadable E-Books supported by advertising, see this post, or check out WOWIO, which offers free E-Books--both classics and more contemporary work by people like Kurt Vonnegut. (Or, read my post about WOWIO here.)

It's a nice place to start if you want to try out reading E-Books on your PC, laptop or other device.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Personal Databases and Research

It wasn't long after I began researching the book CROSLEY in 2000 that I began to pile up a lot of resources--magazine articles, books, newspaper stories, and more. There were hundreds by the time I started writing in 2001. I had dozens of originals on a set of "Crosley shelves" in my office, and even more photocopies of reference material in three-ring binders. I eventually ended up with more than 1,500 sources, not counting personal inteviews.

These were difficult to organize because many of them applied to more than one topic. Fortunately, I had started keeping a database into which I entered each book, magazine, or newspaper as I found it. (Only the fact that I entered each item as I found made it possible for me to build the database. I would never have started such a project knowing that there would be so many entries.)

Each entry includes title, issue date, publisher, topics--everything I needed for my purposes. I included materials I didn't have as well as those I did. When I needed to brush up on a particular topic, I went to the database and did a search to quickly locate the references I needed. A hardcopy version of the database turned out to be of interest to Crosley collectors, so I've sold a few here and there as The Crosley Bibliography. (Click here for more information.)

I've since done the same with three more subjects. I doubt I'll be selling copies, though. Nor will these subjects collect anywhere near 1,500 entries.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Upcoming Crosley Events in Fort Myers, FL, Cincinnati, and Elsewhere

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Green Township Branch Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, 7:00 PM (No charge. Call 369-6095 to register.)
Monday, October 29, 2007, Miami University Institute for Lifelong Learning, Oxford, Ohio, Noon. Contact: (513) 529-8600.
Saturday, November 3, 2007, Books By the Banks, an event featuring Ohio Writers held at the Duke Energy Center (Level 2, South), 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM.
Sunday, November 11, 2007, Ohioana Library Assocation, Cincinnati Public Library, 1:30 PM.
Saturday & Sunday, December 1 & 2, at the Crosley Mansion in Sarasota, Florida (next to the Ringling Museum), I'll be talking about Crosley and signing copies of Crosley. A couple dozen Crosley automobiles, along with other Crosley artifacts, will be on display.
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. 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). Unliess 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.

Getting Credit (and Payment) Where Credit is Due

One of my favorite writer stories has to do with an old-time pulp writer and historian of note named Manly Wade Wellman. Wellman was known for, among many other works, the "Silver John" series (Who Fears the Devil is one Silver John title), on which into a film and a Civil War history that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize (Rebel Boast: First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox).

Wellman was asked to write a story for an issue of the Superman comic book. He duly wrote and turned in the story, and it was published. After waiting a polite amount of time, Wellman asked about his payment. He was told that he wasn't being paid, and that he couldn't prove that he wrote the story. (When published, the story had no byline.)

The matter ended up in court, where Wellman proved that he'd written the story by showing that if you wrote down the first letter of each sentence in the speech balloons over characters' heads for several pages, you would spell out his name. He had, of course, set up the dialogue that way. He was paid.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Written with ..."

I got a chuckle out of a Gary Burbank "little news" item today, about an athelete who was questioned about a statement in his autobiography. (Gary's the afternoon guy on WLW.) When called out on an embarrassing passage in the book, the athelete blurted out, "I was misquoted!"

This, in an autobiography--a book he had alledgedly written by himself.

Obviously, the book was ghosted. And either the athlete was misquoted, or he changed his mind about the statement.

Such things frequently happen when you mix writers and non-writers. Similar things happen when you get too many writers involved in a book, and don't let the guy who wrote most of the book and did most of the research have a final look before publication. I've had this happen to me more than once.

How frequently do books get ghost-written, and how often do books carry names of people who didn't write them? More often than you might think. I can give you a long list of soi-disant "entreprenurs," business gurus, scientists, and even a few novelists who didn't write books with their names on them. I've written some. Among others, I've ghosted a famous science fiction author's novel and collaborated with a dead man.

Non-authors end up listed as "authors" for any of several reasons. Often the appearance of a name on a book's cover happens for the same reason that so-and-so is listed as "Executive Producer" or with a similar title in film credits: the person in question was involved in financing the film.

I'll talk more about ghostwriting and collaborating in future posts, but bear in mind that when you see two or three names as authors of a book, it's almost always the last name who did the work.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Correspondence Courses for Writers, Post 2 of 2

How Does a Correspondence Course Work?

In the first post on this subject, I provided some background on correspondence courses for writers. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how these courses work.

In overview, a correspondence course consists of a number of lessons, each covering one or more topics. For each lesson, the student reads certain material provided by the correspondence school, completes several written assignments, then submits them to her instructor by street mail or email. The instructor makes corrections and comments on the student’s work, usually offering useful suggestions. A grade may or may not be issued.

The course materials typically consist of a set of six or eight or twelve lessons. These are provided in a binder (though nowadays they may be downloadable, too). One or two books are used as supplements, and are normally provided by the correspondence institution. The student may or may not receive all the lessons at once.

The main lesson topics in a short story course will include characterization, plot, grammar and style, story leads, and so forth. The specifics of assignments are dictated by the style of the course. Typical assignments include writing an essay, creating a character chart, writing a scene, constructing dialogue, planning a plot, and completing or correcting sentences or paragraphs.

At a certain point the student actually begins his story--the story he's been planning under the guidance of the instructor from the second or third lesson on. He writes the story beginning (after learning about story leads, characterization, and plot), and turns it in to the instructor. The student goes on to work on the middle of the story and turns it in with the next lesson. Same thing with the story ending. Hopefully the student has mastered various elements of writing style and technique along the way. The instructor provides feedback on each part, after which the student edits and rewrites the entire story, using the instructor's feedback. The instructor does a final critique, and that’s the end of the course.

For most students, the most important parts of a course are getting feedback from a published author (the instructor; anyone who teaches writing ought to be published) and actually completing a short story. This in itself is often worth the cost of the correspondence course.

Just knowing that someone is going read what you write (your assignments) is inspiring, and many correspondence students end up doing a lot more writing than they would have otherwise. And there’s something to be said for the motivation of spending hundreds of dollars on something from which you’ll receive value only if you put in the work.

If you just don’t know where to begin in writing a story or novel, if you’ve read all the books about writing and still can’t find a direction, a correspondence course in writing fiction may work for you. Just make sure that the outfit offering the course has been around for a while. And try to get someone who works in the field in which you want to write. If you plan on writing mysteries, your instructor should have recent credits in the form of mystery short stories or novels. She probably will, as nearly all the schools make a point of having highly qualified instructors.

It's worth noting that not every writer can teach writing. Most writers know what to do, but can't tell you how and why they write as they do. The minority who can write well, have the time, and are willing to teach are special people, worth listening to. (And you might be surprised to learn that some award-winning authors teach writing.)

As noted before, correspondence courses are pricey. If you can, wait a couple of months after you decide to sign up for a course before diving in. There is a certain amount of competition among such schools and they often run promos with discounts or other incentives.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to Avoid Overwriting (Don't Try too Hard)

New writers often feel that a formal, “academic” style is expected of them. Such writing is burdened with weak nouns and passive verbs (the result of attempting to come across as well-informed by using far more words than necessary). It is, in short, overwriting.

As with fiction, effective non-fiction relies on descriptive nouns and active verbs. So, wherever you find a noun and adjective (or a rarely used noun) replace the combination with a stronger, more descriptive noun. For example, “ivy,” rather than “leafy vine,” or “house” rather than “domicile.”

Use verbs in the active voice to add strength to statements. “Astronomers accept this theory” is stronger and more effective than “The theory is accepted by astronomers.”

Another kind of overwriting involves the writer using far too many words in order to say something that he or she could or might have said in a smaller number of words than the number of words used. If your sentences tend to be lengthy (as in the preceding sentence), and/or you use more adverbs and adjectives than necessary, look for ways to trim your sentences.

(The first sentence of the preceding paragraph was, of course, intentionally overwritten. Here is a leaner and more reader-friendly version: “Using five words to write what could written in two is another kind of overwriting.” Don’t use “… a smaller number of words … ” when “… fewer words …” will do.)
Corpyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Extending the Crosley Story

Even though I finished writing CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation in 2005, I continue to research Powel Crosley, Jr., his ideas and inventions, WLW, the Crosley automobile, Crosley airplanes, radios, and other products.

I've turned up the real reason Fats Waller was fired (it's a shocker that has nothing to do with drinking or playing jazz), what Lewis M. Crosley did in his spare time (another surprise), some more Crosley music publishing activities, and lots of other facts and trivia that aren't in the book. Plus a little sex.

To accommodate this new information (and photos), I started a Powel Crosley blog at I recently posted an errata sheet for the book, and you'll find a bunch of info and interesting true stories over there, with more to come. Have a look!

I'll be doing something similar for Blogging Heroes when it comes out.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dictation and Transcription: NaturallySpeaking Voice-Recognition Software. It Works!

Are there still writers who "write" by dictating to a secretary--to another human, who then types up the recording? Barbara Cartland worked this way, and I recall reading a book from Writer's Digest Books by a magazine feature writer who worked by dictating his articles into a tape recorder, then handing it off to a secretary for transcription. Why? Did these folks have trouble with typing? (Both began working in the typewriter era.) Were they unable to create if they had to type?

I'm plan to experiment with dictating short fiction. I assume the trick will be to hold a lot of the story or article one is writing in your mind, verbatim, like Sherwood Anderson did after he went blind. I've heard that he could hold a 2,000-word short story completely in his head. Maybe it comes with practice.

I'm not big on the idea of paying someone to take dictation, but dictating to a computer for transcription to text makes perfect sense to me. The only problem with it was that, until recently, there were no programs good enough to be useful to a writer.

Back in June I bought a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 9.0 Preferred Speech Recognition (a cumbersome name if there ever was one) on the recommendation of an editor who thought it might come in handy for transcribing interviews. It didn't--not the way the editor thought it might, at least. NaturallySpeaking cannot recognize more than one voice at a time. But the software is dandy for dictation.

I tried versions 7 and 8, and those were all but useless. Version 9 works as advertised. It's not a great tool for transcribing meetings or interviews, because it cannot recognize and transcribe more than one voice at a time. Plus, you must train it to recognize each voice you want it to transcribe, and load the training file for the particular person whose speech--live or recorded--you wish to transcribe to text.
All in all, that's not unreasonable. Versions 7 and 8 of this program, along with some other older voice-recognition software I've tried, were all but useless when it came to transcription. They were fine for issuing commands to your computer, but the error rate was far too high. With NaturallySpeaking I get an error rate of about 15 percent. That's acceptable and leads to no more editing that typos.

The program is really easy enough to use that you don't need to buy a book or video to help you learn it. Just install it and jump in. To get started with NaturallySpeaking, you spend maybe a half hour reading a selection from Alice in Wonderland, Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, or one of four other works from among those included with the program. As you read the text sample the creates a reference file of your speech patterns and pronunciation. That user file is expanded every time you use the program, and you can teach it new words manually.

One of the more interesting aspects of the program is that it can learn some words and usages from the manual changes you make in the text after dictation. NaturallySpeaking does fairly good job of handling homonyms, too--deciding whether to use "rite," "right," or "write," for example. The decision seems to be based on a word's context.

When using NaturallySpeaking, it is best carefully enunciate your words and speak forcefully. You don't have to exaggerate the enunciation; NaturallySpeaking is quite good at knowing what do you mean. On the other side of that, I found that I adapted my speech to the program, to a certain extent. To anyone listening as a I dictate, I sound like I'm reading a script or acting.. And that's the best approach; don't ham it up but don't be shy.

One thing that takes getting used to is the fact that you have to specify each and every punctuation mark. When you want to add a comma, you have to say,. At the end of the sentence you have to say "period" or "question mark" or "exclamation mark," as appropriate. Ditto quotation marks, semi colons, colons, etc. interestingly once you get used to it this doesn't slow you down. Demand products burying

I bought NaturallySpeaking back in June, and have spent 25 hours or so dictating. I think 20 to 25 hours is what it takes to get used to the program and to let it build up a vocabulary. Now I'm experimenting with customizing the program and using more commands as I dictate. (Until recently, the only commands I used were "new paragraph" and "strike that." The latter backs up and deletes.)

If you want to try dictating letters, manuscripts, or whatever else, this is the program to have. It's well worth the price. Just make sure you get Version 9 or higher. I've seen earlier versions stocked in several retail computer chains; they should yank those and get Version 9. But they're not, so your best bet may be (Amazon's price is lower than I've seen elsewhere, and shipping is fast.) Make sure you buy the Preferred version.

Oh--and don't worry about what kind of microphone you use. I use a cheap headset mic that came with an earlier version. When I've transcribed recorded material, I transferred it to my computer's hard drive first. I have transcribed my voice from Sony micro-cassette tapes and from a Sony digital recorder. The software that comes with 1e latter (Sony Digital Voice Editor 2) is excellent for replaying and manipulating voice recordings, by the way, and NaturallySpeaking is designed to be compatible with it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Writer's Market: Do You Need It?

For many years, I relied on Writer's Market for information on magazines and book publishers. (For those who may not know the book, Writer's Market, or WM, offers listings for thousands and book and magazine publishers and other markets for freelance writers.) From the early through the late 1970s, I bought the new edition every year. Then I figured out that it was enough to pick up a copy of WM every other year, and supplement the market info with listings that appeared in The Writer, Writer's Digest, and elsewhere.

Eventually, I ended up writing for Writer's Market (in addition to listings, it contains how-to articles and interviews with writers and editors), and even appeared in ads in Writer's Digest, endorsing the book.

In recent years I've had a look at the local library's copy and used the online version now and then (along with Literary Market Place), but it's not really that important to me now. Still, WM is a worthwhile guide for new writers, and for publishing writers who work in areas where they deal with lots of markets.

If you are writing only one novel, or just one book of any kind, you may need to use the book only once or twice. Same if you're seeking an agent. You can probably get by with using the copy at your library. But if you frequently write short stories and/or magazine articles, or any other works that have multiple market possibilities, Writer's Market is an excellent resource.

And it is worth noting that just reading the market listings can generate ideas. I used WM for exactly that. Market descriptions inspired article ideas, and sometimes short story ideas. I also got at least one book idea from WM.

The only downchecks I give the book are that it has fewer listings than it used to, and definitely a lot less info in the average listing than in the 70s and 80s. And it's overpriced, though the Amazon discount makes it reasonable.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tales from the REAL Writing Life: A Power-Crazed Telephone Screamer Attacks Me Over a Book

I've shared several strange experiences from my writing career here. Here's another--one that may be the strangest so far, involving as it does a power-mad telephone screamer with a penchant for sexual symbolism.

Imagine that you’re working on an important book. It’s a book that means so much to you that you’re writing it without having lined up a publisher. After a couple of years, someone you’ve never even heard of learns of the project and does the following:
  • Attempts to "take control" of the book
  • Threatens you by both telephone and E-mail
  • Literally screams at you on the telephone, pitching a childish fit as he tries to intimidate you with descriptions of the “power” of his money and attorneys
That's what happened to me as I was writing CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation. This is someone who was neither a writer nor a publisher. He wasn't even a descendent of my subject, Powel Crosley, Jr.

What could incite such extreme behavior? I’m still not sure. Let me tell you how it played out. As one of several lines of research for the book, I contacted the company that uses the Crosley trademark on major appliances, said company having licensed it from the AVCO Corporation, which bought the Crosley Corporation in 1945. (Note: The licensing took place in the mid-1970s. The AVCO Corporation of the 1970s no longer exists.)

A few days after E-mailing the company I received a message from its head, the late Buddy L. Dixson, advising me that he owned the Crosley trademark, and that “… if anyone writes a book about Powel Crosley, Jr., it will be me!” (Exclamation mark his.) I telephoned him at his office to find out what he was thinking, and on learning my business he began screaming about his lawyers in New York and Washington, and how he would sue me and do anything else necessary to prevent any publisher from bringing out a biography of Powel Crosley, Jr.

There really wasn’t anything I could say to that, and about the time he got into high gear, yelling about how much money he had, I hung up. A few days later I got a letter from him, written in garbled pseudo-legalese and referring to a “first notice of action.” Dixson sent an additional threat connected with “my lawyers in Washington,” after which I never heard from him again.

But that’s not the end of the story. A year or so later this clown actually published (or paid to have printed) a book that purported to be the story of Powel Crosley, Jr. Jam-packed with details of Dixon’s life (including his college athletic career, minutiae involving the appliance distribution business, and apparently whatever else happened to pass through his mind), there was far, far more about Dixson than Crosley. The book (and I use the term loosely) was composed largely of pasted-up photocopies of letters, press releases, articles, and snapshots. No ISBN, and no copyright--in fact, in the front matter Dixson declared that the book was not under copyright protection.

Only a small amount of commentary was written or dictated by Dixson himself. The most memorable of the original material was Dixon’s tale of how he bullied AVCO executives into letting him have the rights to the Crosley trademark while urinating. (Literally. It was that bad.)

After all the verbal abuse and insults from this guy, I was really looking forward to sending a copy of the Crosley book to him. But he died before CROSLEY was published. I believe he was 85--certainly old enough to know better. But perhaps his age provides an excuse for his actions.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Speaker Available: Official Crosley Historian, Author and Expert on Crosley Radios, Cars, WLW, Marketing, and More

(Note: For more information on Crosley radios, cars, airplanes, and Powel Crosley himself, see
You are probably familiar with the story of industrialist and broadcast pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr. And you may have read the New York Times bestseller CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, of which I am the primary author and researcher.

You may not know that there is quite a lot of information about Powel Crosley, Jr. and his activities that did not make it into the book, for one reason or another.

As the leading Crosley historian and an expert on early broadcasting history and other topics, I will be pleased to share my years of research with your organization as a speaker at your convention, trade show, or other meeting. In addition to what didn't make it into the book, I've continued my research and have uncovered lots of new information since the book was published. I am available to speak on these and related subjects:
  • Powel Crosley, Jr.'s life and times
  • Crosley inventions
  • Crosley radios, WLW, and the early broadcast industry
  • Crosley automobiles
  • Crosley airplanes (yes, Crosley built aircraft and aircraft engines!)
  • Crosley's many contributions to winning World War II (including the Proximity Fuze)
  • Powel Crosley, Jr. and the Cincinnati Reds
  • The evolution of high-power radio broadcasting
  • The Crosley approach to product development and marketing
As I have the opportunity, I share some of this knowledge via magazine articles (here is an example), but I'll never get to publish it all. It is, however, available to your organization or company.

I am a speaker with wide experience in addressing groups of all sizes, as well as television and radio audiences. In addition to doing a presentation for your organization I will be pleased to spend time with individuals. Plus, I have various Crosley artifacts to share during my talks.

For more information, please contact me at: Crosleybook at yahoo dot com.
--Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A New Book on Writing Style and Technique: What Should it Cover?

I'm at work on a how-to book on writing style and technique. I want to cover some new or little-known concepts--things like sentences having viewpoints and attitudes, structuring sentences and paragraphs for maximum communication, and "summary dialogue"--as well as more conventional topics. What I'm writing applies to both fiction and non-fiction.

It may turn into two books, one about style and the other about technique.

Either way, I am interested in what you want to know or (if you're a veteran writer) at least what you think should be in such a book. Please reply here or via E-mail to mike atsign michaelabanks dot com.

Thanks in advance!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Music: The Cincinnati Sound (Book Overview)

During the mid- and late 1960s, I was a bass player for several local rock bands (aka garage bands) in the Cincinnati area. (That’s me on the right in the photo below, working a Fender Precision bass.)

Like the majority of my peers, I drifted away from music after a few years, and for a variety of reasons. I sometimes regret that, but it’s just as well; the demand for bands is a tiny fraction of what it was then, and the pay is mostly poor—even less than a writer’s pay. But it was all a grand experience. Along with thousands of other teenage musicians around the country, I was living in a world that our parents, teachers, and other adults couldn’t see—let alone enter. And we made it up as we went along.

I managed to give the drugs a miss, and I remember it all well, belying the breezy aphorism that “if you can remember it you weren’t there.” I have ambitions of writing a book on the experience (the thieving disc jockeys, the big names, the rivalries, and camaraderie, the groupies, the hangers-on, the lies, minor adventures, and all the rest of the tragic and comedic experiences), but that’s on the back burner for now.

In the meantime, someone else has put together a book that offers a wonderful overview of popular and country music in Cincinnati in the 1960s, as well as the two decades preceding it. The Cincinnati Sound, by Randy McNutt (Arcadia Press, 2007) brings the rock, soul, rockabilly, R&B, country, and bluegrass music, musicians, and singers who were part of the Cincinnati scene from 1940 through 1970.

With photos, text, and ephemerae, McNutt brings to life such famous performers as Doris Day, Andy Williams, and Rosemary Clooney, all of whom got their starts in Cincinnati in the 1940s. He also introduces us to a number of upwardly-mobile acts for whom Cincinnati (and, usually, WLW) was an important way-station or stopover. Among these were Chet Atkins, Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, et numerous al. Also on the just passing through list was Hank Williams, who recorded “Lovesick Blues” in Cincinnati, along with James Brown, who recorded many of his hits at Cincinnati’s King Records, as did Moon Mullican, Bobby Bare, Hankshaw Hawkins, and others.

In more recent memory, a goodly number of R&B, blues, soul, country, and rock musicians came from or got their starts in Cincinnati. These include the Isley Brothers, Lonnie Mack, the Lemon pipers (remember “Green Tambourine?”), the Casinos, and Billy Joe Royal. Sacred Mushroom veteran Larry Goshorn was part of the Pure Prairie League, and more than a few Cincinnati musicians left to staff other nationally prominent groups.

This book is a real trip back time for anyone who was ever a musician or singer in Cincinnati—or anywhere else, for that matter. The 200-odd photos are real treasures, and many of them have never been published. In addition to appealing to music fans and musicians, The Cincinnati Sound deserves a place on every reader’s regional history shelf.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks