fellow writers, how you doin’?

Welcome to The Writing Zone! Initially, this website was created for a midterm project at the University of Baltimore, but when thinking about the assignment, I thought that this was a great way to promote my work as a writer to you, the world, my fellow comrades, my beautiful people…yes, I’m getting carried away. Not only will this be a place for my writing, this will be a place where we will discover the works of other writers, some known and others not as well-known (hey, I’m all about equal opportunity). I want you, the public, to feel that you are a member of this website, so if you read a blog that you want to comment on, then do it! In this blog, I will share my writing experiences with you, and please feel free to share your experiences, too. This website is about community, so let’s be kind and respectful of each other’s opinions. Now, sit back, relax…and join me for the literary ride!



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Graduate School, Here I Come!

DSCN2995Wow, so much has happened since I last posted. Now, I am a second-year graduate student at George Washington University pursuing a Master of Arts in Professional Studies in Publishing. I successfully completed my first year of graduate school (thank you, Jesus!). I’m gearing to go back on August 28. I already know that this semester is going to be a BEAST! Pray for me, y’all.

It is my goal and dream to start my own publishing house, La Muse Press, hence, why I am back in school after earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Yes, there are plenty of independent publishers out there. So what would make La Muse Press different?

I am committed to publishing the works of people of color and women. As a Black woman, I want to see our stories told and shared to the world. Our stories matter too. Representation is important.

Speaking about sharing stories, check out my latest short story “The Midnight Knock.” The story is about a young woman who recently lost her mother. Surprisingly, she receives a knock on the door. Who could the knock come from? Her mother? A ghost? You just have to read to find out. Click here to read it. 

Enough about me. What about you? What dreams are you working on? Remember not even the sky is the limit. Keep pushing and dreaming. You will make it! With Christ, He makes the impossible, possible. Stay blessed. 



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My Adventure at BookCon 2017

I know it’s been over a year since I last posted a blog entry. A lot of good things have happened since then: I have a new position working for the federal government in D.C. as a Technical Writer-Editor. This fall, I should begin my Master’s program in Publishing at George Washington University. Needless to say, I’ve been busy.

I’ll admit I let blogging fall to the waist side for several reasons:

1.) I thought it was a waste of time (like who is reading my blog anyway?).

2.) The time I spend blogging, I can spend writing fiction.

3.) I won’t expand my readership through blogging. 


Mary B. Banks with award-winning author Jason Reynolds at BookCon 2017.

But I’ve been rejuvenated since my trip to BookCon on Saturday, June 3 at Javits Center in the Big Apple. I learned so much. My main reason for attending BookCon was to attend IngramSpark and BookLife’s “Indie Author 101” panel. I had an opportunity to get much needed advice regarding how to become a successful, business-minded writer. I became so inspired that I thought it would be imperative to start blogging back again. 

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When Being an Artist doesn’t Pay

9365641519_ab84697e21_nWhen it comes to technology, I am a bit behind. No, I’m not living in the Stone Age, but when it comes to e-books, I’m lost in the sauce.

I’ve always been a traditional reader and have never experienced reading a book on an e-book reader. I like to feel the pages, and actually turn a page. I am a huge fan of typography, and I noticed that the typeface used in e-books are pretty basic (it reminds me of a boring-looking Word document).

However, I want to call myself an entrepreneur, and one of the rules for business is to give the people what they want. By not having my book, Street Magic, available in an e-book, I am not tapping into the e-book market.

Some folks will never pick up my book if it isn’t in an e-book format. For that reason (drum roll, please), I am biting the bullet. I’m turning Street Magic into an e-book (gasp!)

Speaking about e-books, I’m not going to lie. At times, I have toyed with the idea of writing romance, science fiction, or paranormal (not because I love it, but because there is more money to be made).

I read one article that made my head explode. It said that these two self-published authors were receiving monthly Amazon royalty checks that ranged from $20,000 to $70,000. One author wrote romance while the other wrote about individuals preparing for the Apocalypse.

Shucks, with that kind of money, I might give genre writing a whirl. I am working on a gloom and doom piece with a religious bent, but I’m not writing it for monetary reasons.

With that being said, I can only be true to myself as an artist. I can’t sell out my craft for money. But one of my friends made an interesting point:

How many people go to work everyday and don’t really love what they do? They go there for a paycheck. So why can’t an artist bring that same mentality to his art?

Do you think it’s wrong for an artist to create a certain style of art just for the money? Or is it being business savvy? I want to hear from you.


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Your Past is Around the Corner: A Review of Annex Theater’s “Insurrection: Holding History”

If you want to see a play that forces you to think about how the past influences the present, Robert O’Hara’s Insurrection: Holding History, is a must-see. O’Hara, who wrote the play as his graduate thesis, explores themes of ancestry, race, and sexuality.

Ron (right) drives T.J. (left) home. Mutha Wit takes the backseat. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

The play follows Ron (Nathan Steven Couser), a 25-year-old Columbia University doctoral history candidate who is finishing his thesis paper about Nat Turner’s rebellion. Accompanying the central character is his immobile, non-speaking 189-year-old great grandfather, T.J. (Dominic Gladden), who is a former slave. Ron is able to communicate with his grandfather through Mutha Wit (Anna Brown), who is an extension of T.J.’s psyche. Through Mutha Wit, we hear T.J. thoughts and his conversations with his great grandson. After celebrating his 189th birthday, T.J. tells his grandson to take him home.

What better way to get material for your looming thesis paper deadline than to travel with your grandfather to the slave plantation where he lived in Southampton, Virginia? Initially, the play reminds me of Octavia Butler’s Kindred (for those of you who haven’t read the novel, the protagonist is transplanted into slavery times). Although the play’s subject matter can be heavy and dark, especially the scene when the Black overseer (Kalid Bilal) forces both Izzie Mae (Terena McLorn) and Ron to strip in order to beat them, there are comical scenes. The musical dance break that the slaves perform when they discover the master’s dead body is hilarious.

“Yeah! Oh, he’s dead,” the slaves sing gleefully while an image of a cotton plantation is projected on the wall.

And you can’t have a play about slavery and not include the slave owner’s wife. S. Ann Johnson plays Mistress Mo’Tel superbly. There is Katie Lynn (Rachel Reckling), the house slave who cares for Mistress Mo’Tel’s baby, Wretched Jr. (and even that has a twist). Buck Naked (Dave Iden) is the lone White indentured servant who is treated no better than his Black counterparts.

Nat Turner (front) during a rousing sermon. Buck Naked (middle) and Mutha (far left) listen. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

Nat Turner (front) during a rousing sermon. Buck Naked (middle) and Mutha (far left) listen. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

Another aspect of the play is the role of religion. We see Nat Turner (Kalid Bilal), who claims he is a prophet and values the Bible; yet, he is able to justify brutally killing Whites. As Ron watches the brutality of the reality that surrounds him, he asks his grandfather does he believe in God. Fervently, the grandfather tells his grandson, “You are the proof. Slavery ends.”

As a viewer, the play challenges the notion that history is not connected to the present. O’Hara seems to suggest that life is a continuation of experiences that are rooted in the past. As T.J. puts it to Ron, “You wake up every morning breathing the air that Nat Turner fought for you to breathe and you sleep every night with no fear ’cause that crazy nigga shouted out at the moon asking his God for a way through this trouble.”

Insurrection also examines the quest for an individual to find his purpose. The question that Hammet (Kenyon Parson), Nat Turner’s right-hand man, asks Ron is a poignant one: “You ain’t got something you willing to die for?”

Insurrection runs through October 25th at the Annex Theater (219 Park Ave, Baltimore, MD). The play is directed by Kyle Jackson. Tickets are $15.00 (general admission) and $7.00 (students). Visit Annex Theater website for more information at http://www.baltimoreannextheater.org.

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Guess whose Back?

It’s been a long time! But I am back. I’ve been busy promoting my short story collection, Street Magic: Stories and Tales. If you don’t know, Street Magic is a collection of nine short stories that I wrote while a student at the University of Baltimore. The characters are zany and authentic. Everyone who has read my book always says, “Your writing is so vivid. I could picture the stories.” I’ve been playing with the idea of creating a book trailer or adding an audiovisual component… we shall see.

My New Year’s resolution was to get back on track. I have been a few places to promote my book. I’ve been to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History luncheon held in Washington, DC on February 28th. It was my first vendor opportunity. In retrospect, I was not that prepared to play with the big boys. I brought myself and my books—no business cards, not even a poster. Needless to say, when I saw the other authors bring their A-game, I knew I had to kick it up a notch.


Mary B. Banks at the ASLAH luncheon held during Black History Month 2015.

My book, Street Magic, on display.

Street Magic on display at the ASALH’s Authors Event held on February 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

At the event, several people purchased my book. Me being the bibliophile that I am, I ended up spending the money buying other authors’ book. Although, I spent majority of the money on the same day, it was fun to get out of Baltimore to see other parts of the country. That is what I love about writing–it takes you on a journey. Are you ready for the literary ride?

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I wish, I wish, I wish…

I did it! I have submitted my application for the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University (the deadline is December 1, 2011 with a $60 application fee, click here for more information). I am so excited about the possibility of being selected. Last year, 1,900 people applied and only ten applicants were accepted (five in poetry and five in fiction). For the longest time, I debated whether or not I should apply, but heck, I only have one life—why not?  Who would turn down the opportunity to live in Palo Alto, California for two years with an annual stipend of $26,000 to write? However, moving to California would definitely be a CHANGE for me. For my entire life, I have lived in Baltimore, MD—I didn’t go away for college nor for graduate school, so I think I am ready to see the rest of the country, although it can be a bit frightful to leave what is familiar. But in order to grow, you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone can become a trap. You can become frightened to try new things, and I won’t let fear hold me back. Back to the Stegner application—I  spent several days working on the statement of plans. I figured since the process is so competitive I wanted to make sure I adequately expressed why I want to become a Stegner fellow. I mentioned my writing plans and career goals: writing a second short story collection and teaching creative writing on the collegiate level. I’m not going to lie, when I read the bios of the past fellows, I felt a bit intimidated, especially if I saw a person with numerous publications in well-known literary journals. However, you  shouldn’t compare yourself with others. You can only be yourself. Don’t ever count yourself out; you never know when it will be your turn to shine.


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Indie writers, don’t throw in the towel!

Mary B. Banks, Baltimore indie author, proudly holds her debut short story collection, Street Magic: Stories and Tales.

I have been working hard to promote Street Magic: Stories and Tales. To date, here’s my progress so far: Street Magic is at Atomic Books and Amazon.com. My next step is to get reviews for my book. I have received great feedback from two people, a classmate from the University of Baltimore and my former English teacher, and that makes me feel awesome! As a writer, I feel like when I write, I am writing in a dark room. I don’t know if people will love my work, hate it, talk crap about it, criticize it… So when people say that they actually enjoyed reading my book, well that’s icing on the cake. It makes me feel that my hard work paid off, that my countless hours of writing and designing the book weren’t done in vain, that I’m not delusional to think that I have something that people will not only read, but will pay to read. Before I started La Muse Press, I would have given my work away for free, because it’s not about the money, it’s about the art, but now I have to run a business; therefore, I need to make a profit. However, no dollar amount will ever compensate for the feeling you get when readers have kind, sincere words to say about your work–it’s an instant picker-upper. An espresso shot of confidence and reassurance. Always remember the best form of publicity and/or advertisement is WORD OF MOUTH. No dollar amount can pay for the natural buzz and momentum that surrounds a product when people enjoy a product so much that they HAVE to tell their family and friends. So, if you’re an emerging writer, please hang in there, because you never know if you might have a hit on your hands. Be honest with yourself and write every day. Your wish might come true. Keep dreaming and find ways to make your dreams become true one step at a time.

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The Best Darn Profession!

Marketing, marketing, marketing is key to promoting and selling your book. You can have one of the best books out there, but if it isn’t marketed properly, your book will never see the light of day. Being a writer, I never realized how much of the publishing process doesn’t involve writing. Once you are published and have a book, it’s a different ballgame. I know firsthand because I’m trying to promote my debut short story collection, Street Magic: Stories and Tales (2011), and it is kicking my tail. I find myself spending countless of hours using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and Goodreads to generate publicity…and what are the results…NADA! I know I’m being impatient, but darn, how much patience do I have to have (I know if you’re a self-published author, I know you know what I’m talking about!)? But I will be patient and keep pushing. I will keep researching potential publicity opportunities to promote my baby, Street Magic: Stories and Tales. If you too are having the marketing blues, here’s your opportunity to express yourself. Just leave a comment and let’s get through our writing woes together. Hey, maybe one day we might see our names on The New York Times bestsellers list, until then we have our journals, our tears, and our frustration to keep us going. Cheers! We are writers, the best profession in the entire world (wink).

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My First Published Book

Well, it finally happened. My first book, Street Magic: Stories and Tales, is published! I’m so excited. The book is a bit wacky, zany, sad, and gritty. It is composed of nine short stories that I wrote during my enrollment in the MFA Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program at the University of Baltimore. I designed and typesetted my book, which was an arduous task. Choosing the right cover design was the hardest. At first, my book was a pure typographic design with a black and white color scheme, but my teacher who is a graphic designer suggested that the cover lacked magic. She suggested that I take a picture of asphalt to provide texture to the back cover. I thought about her suggestions, and then I thought about a photograph I took for a class assignment during my undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. The photograph is an image of my shadow against the pavement. I chose the photograph for my cover because it has a magical yet gritty quality. I decided I would print 50 books for my first print run because I plan to sell Street Magic at local independent bookstores including Atomic Books and Cyclops (cross fingers). I will be reading a selection of my book at the MFA student reading at the University of Baltimore, Student Center, 5th floor (21 West Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201) at 7:30 pm on Friday, May 6th. I am selling my books for $12. If you are unable to attend, you can purchase Street Magic online.  To read the table of contents, click here. Look forward to seeing you at the reading!

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Sherna Ann Johnson:an emerging Charm City playwright

Last Tuesday, I went to the Strand Theater to view a staged reading of Sherna Johnson’s latest play Sick Stories, Gentle Granddaddy (2011). Once, again Sherna wrote an awesome play that chronicles the life of an African-American man, a fellow Baltimorean who marries a Southern woman named Queen. What makes the play interesting is the narration, which is told from the granddaughter’s perspective. She knows her grandfather as a gentle caring man, which is a far departure from his abusive, alcoholic days. I don’t want to give too much away because I want to you to experience the play with fresh eyes. Hopefully, the play will be selected as a part of the 2011 Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Click here to listen to the dynamic play.

It is so awesome to see a good friend become successful at her craft. When I am an audience member, I become transfixed–I am immersed in the story. If Sick Stories, Gentle Granddaddy is selected, it would be Sherna’s second produced play. As mentioned in a previous post, Sherna’s first play, The XX Chromosome Genome Project, was selected as part of the second annual Friends and Neighbors Festival: Works by Women at the Strand Theater  in 2010. The play is reminiscent of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.  You can purchase Sherna’s chapbook here for $7.95.  To learn more about Sherna and her creative endeavors, visit her website, sannjohnson.info. Sherna is a promising up-and-coming playwright who is on her way to the top!

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