Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Allen's new blog

My first post in my very own blog.

Is it good so far?

Still reading?

You can't surf five different sites these days without stumbling across someone's blog. Some blogs are simply online diaries. Some are filled with useful information on particular topics akin to the blogger's interests.

I have a variety of interests. I'm also an author. I believe I'll be posting whatever I feel like posting about that day, whether it's about antique radios or the fate of the subway in Cincinnati.

I've written three books, all published by Arcadia Publishing: The Cincinnati Subway, Cincinnati on the Go, and Stepping Out in Cincinnati.

Am I an author, or am I just nuts about Cincinnati? Both, actually.

I wrote Subway in 1998 at a time when I was an aspiring author looking for a full-length project. I had already had a few articles published in Radio World magazine and had attempted fiction, but I had a lot to learn about telling a good story among other things. When I saw a TV news feature about the subway in late 1997 (Cincinnati TV news periodically mentions the subway to remind us there is one still there) I wanted to learn more about it. I figured there had to be a book about it, but there wasn't. There was nothing on the web about it (remember, this was 1997). The more I asked around about it, the more people told me it was a story that had to be told.

So I took it upon myself to write the book. I wasn't a traffic engineer, librarian, or railroad historian. Just a guy who wanted to tell a true story about a hole in the ground.

I was working a full-time job. It took about nine months to research, write, and revise the first drafts of the manuscript. I consulted numerous books about Cincinnati history, City-commissioned reports from the 1910s and 1920s, hundreds of newspaper articles about the subway, and spoke with a great variety of people about it. Every new piece of info I found went into the book. Then I spent more months rewriting and revising. In the end, the word count was 55,000 and I had collected about 200 images to illustrate the book.

I had several goals in writing the manuscript I wanted to accomplish:

  • Write about more than just the story of the subway. I wanted to cover local history as well, and how other factors influenced the need for the subway and its outcome: automobiles, interurban trains, streetcars, the two world wars, and the Depression.
  • Write the book in a conversational style, geared for the "every reader." I don't know how many books I consulted written by authors who wrote at several levels higher than the average reader, using long, multi-syllabic words and complex sentences. My book would appeal to anyone.
  • I wanted to write it so it wasn't biased one way or another; I tried to take a neutral stance throughout and just tell the story. If a transportation engineer had written the book, it might have come across differently than how I handled it.

During this time I was reading up on writing and publishing, and started querying history and university presses. None were interested. "Too narrow a topic" was what I most often heard. 1998 became 1999 and personal obligations forced me to set aside the manuscript.

In 2000 my wife and I bought our house. I spent the next few months performing various house projects, but throughout this time, the subway manuscript never left my mind. People would sometimes ask, "Get your book published yet?" and I would have to hang my head and say "no, it's on hold right now."

I had been visiting a website called Forgotton Ohio, run by an "urban explorer" who visited abandoned buildings and other locations around Ohio and featured them on his site. In 2002 I saw that he had written a book called Forgotten Columbus published by Arcadia and had it displayed on his site. I thought his subject matter was similar to mine, so I contacted the publisher and told them about Subway. They expressed an interest and asked for the manuscript. Soon they asked for a proposal. I wrote the proposal, and was then offered a contract.

Was I happy? Oh, yes.

Then the work began, again.

55,000 words was too long for an Arcadia book. I had to cut it down by at least half. The editor gave me a lot of help, and suggested moving chunks of text to the captions. I spent three solid months editing every evening and every weekend. I had to cut thousands of words. Although this was a time-consuming process, and not at all unusual in the publishing world, it did give me a chance to revisit the manuscript after the years had passed to find problems I had missed the first times I went through it. I also tightened up the text a lot, as well as deleted everything unnecessary. In the end, the manuscript was better than ever.

The Cincinnati Subway came out May, 2003 and sold out of the publisher in a month. They had to issue an immediate reprint. Since then, it's on printing number 5. I expect to see number 6 soon.

It still remains one of Arcadia's continuously best sellers.

In later blog posts I'll talk about my next two books.

I am moving past local history. I have covered the topics I wanted to cover with my three books and am now delving into fiction. I wrote my first children's book (historical fiction on a passenger train in 1895--yeah, history again!) and it is being submitted to agencies right now. So far, 38 agencies have been queried. 12 rejects.

In other news, my cousin Nathan Singer's second book Chasing the Wolf has been released. Check your local bookstore or and pick one up today while you browse for my three titles. Also, look for the recently released The Pacific Between by an author friend of mine, Raymond Wong.


At Wednesday, March 22, 2006 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Dawno said...

Wonderfully written - I look forward to visiting often. Congrats on your first blog and first post - Happy Blogiversary!

At Thursday, March 23, 2006 8:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a guy who wanted to tell a true story about a hole in the ground.
Now if that isn't a tagline I don't know what is! Congrats on your new shiny blog, lets hope it gets mucho mileage. I will visit here often. Thanks for letting us all know over at AW.


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