Today our interview is with author and blogger T. J. Banks. Her blog, Sketch People, features personal stories of the fascinating people she has encountered. Read the interview to learn about her books!
First of all, tell us a little about the books you’ve written.
Souleiado was my first published book. It’s a time-travel novel written following my husband’s sudden death in 1995, and, in some ways, the heroine’s situation parallels mine. Houdini is an animal story for young adults and for cat lovers of all ages: its hero is based on an abandoned Flamepoint Siamese kitten that my dad and I smuggled aboard an airplane when I was a kid. (It was actually written long before Souleiado, but I didn’t find a publisher for it until a few years after the other novel came out.) Catsong, the 2007 winner of the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award, is a collection of real-life animal stories, most of which first appeared in various animal publications and anthologies. The latest, A Time for Shadows, is a World War I novel based – in part – on the story of my grandmother’s older brother who was killed over in France a month before the Armistice was signed.
What has been your experience with publishing and finding an audience?
I’ve tried both conventional and POD publishing. And while it’s lovely to get an advance, as I did with Souleiado, my POD experiences have worked out better in terms of sales and royalties. The most important thing, I’ve learned, is getting the story out there, and readers truly don’t care how you do that. Souleiado, like many fantasy novels (and I use the term “fantasy” very loosely), had a small but loyal following. Houdini and Catsong appealed to a much wider audience – i. e., animal lovers – and are still going strong. Shadows has been interesting because it appeals to both men and women. I hate generalizations, but women tend to read it as a romance – it’s not – and men as a war novel. One reader – an older man, as it so happened – called it “a real cross-over novel,” and I think that’s probably the most accurate description to date.
Before you wrote books you worked in journalism and in your blog bio you state that it’s still your first love, why the change?
It hasn’t been a change so much as it has been attrition. A number of the publications I used to do journalistic features and reviews for have simply closed up shop. Journalism gave me some of the tools and all of the confidence I needed to try my hand at fiction. So it’s not an “either/or” proposition for me – it’s both, and it always will be.
What inspired you to start your blog “Sketch People”?
I missed interviewing people. Listening to their stories. There’s a wonderful rush that happens when you click with your interviewee and everything falls into the right place. And sometimes the right place is an unexpected place: something comes out that you didn’t plan on, and it’s magic. That’s why I don’t have miles and miles of questions written down beforehand: I’ll do my homework and read up on the person, but I like to let the interview shape itself as it goes along.
A friend had been suggesting that I do a blog. I didn’t know much about blogging at the time, so I just mentally filed the suggestion and went on my way. However, then I began checking out other people’s blogs and learned, mirabile dictu, a blog could be whatever you wanted it to be. Well, why not have my blog be an ongoing series of interviews – sketches, if you will – with people about what they do and why they do it? The name, btw, came from my brother Gary, a photographer – just an offhanded comment he made many years ago, and the phrase came back to me all these years later. So here’s to you, Gary.
What are some of your favorite books of all time?
My tastes in books, as in everything else, is rather eclectic. There are certain books that I go back to from time to time because something in them speaks to me. Richard Adams’s Watership Down. Elizabeth Goudge’s books. Some of the older historical novels, such as Anya Seton’s Katherine, Janet Holt Giles’s Savanna, or Margaret Campbell Barnes’s novels about the Plantagenets, Tudors, and Stuarts. Robert Graves’s and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry. There are some young adult novels I’ll re-read when the spirit moves me because I like visiting with old friends, and these are exceptionally good ones.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve got another historical novel in the works. It’s still very rough , but I feel good about what I’ve written so far. I’d also like to get enough “Sketch People” profiles together for a book. I’m toying with the idea of doing something with my poetry and possibly – who knows? – writing a Catsong 2.
Why do you write?
Because I’m totally in love with the process –seeing a scene in one of my novels come together and play itself out in my head, capturing the essence one of my “Sketch People,” finding the right words at the right time….I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else that would mean more to me.
T. J. Banks is the author of A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Souleiado, Houdini, a novel for young adults which the late writer and activist Cleveland Amory enthusiastically branded “a winner.” Catsong, a collection of her best cat stories, was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. A Contributing Editor to laJoie, she has received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), ByLine, and The Writing Self. Her writing has been widely anthologized, and she has worked as a columnist, a stringer for the Associated Press, and an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School. She is currently writing a blog called “Sketch People,” a series of interviews with people who have stories worth telling.
A big thanks to T. J. for coming over and sharing about herself and her writing. Don’t forget to go check out her blog, Sketch People. As always, you are welcome to leave questions and comments for T. J. in the comments!