Monday, December 5, 2011


My first cat was Smokey, a gray-striped kitten that I cornered in the silage shed at my grandparents’ farm. I was seven and delighted: it was the first time I’d managed to get my hands on one of those half-wild barn cats. My brother Gary, bent on teasing me, pretended he was going to take the kitten away. I cried, screamed – and held on. Looking back, I’d say it was perfect training for being a freelance writer.

                                  -- From my book Catsong


I have been writing for most of my life. I started freelancing when I was in college, and I haven’t stopped since. Can’t. It’s too much a part of who I am.

One of my first writing gigs was with a local weekly. I covered various commission meetings and did interviews. I didn’t love the first part: once, another reporter and I were so bored at a meeting, we started re-working an amendment to the bylaws that the commission was getting ready to vote on. We were found out – I expect the look of sudden rapt interest on our faces gave us away – but the commission’s officer gave us an approving nod and said our wording was right. So, chances are good that our revision of their revision is still in the records somewhere. I like to think it is, anyway.

I enjoyed doing the interviews, however. I’d always loved listening to people’s stories, and here I was, actually getting paid to do it. I went on to other writing gigs – my long-running arts column at Hartford Woman, my “Making a Difference….” column at Just Cats!, and various assignments with other publications. The law of averages being what it is, some interviews clicked, and some didn’t. But there was always the magic of the unexpected reply – the possibility that your interviewee would suddenly say, “You know, I never thought of that before….”

Time passed, and I got away from journalism. I began writing fiction and published four books. Then, about two years ago, I realized how much I missed doing those interviews. So I started a blog called “Sketch People,” which is essentially a series of conversations with people about what they do. Everybody has a story, writer Paul Gallico said in one of his last interviews, and I believe that. I like finding out about how my interviewees got where they are, what drove them, and even what detours they took on their particular journey. (Sometimes a good detour turns out to be the story.) I never get tired of it. And I’ve learned a lot in the process – not just about the people themselves but also about the dynamics of interviewing. About how terribly important it is for the interviewer to know when to step back and let those people tell their stories.

All those stories have, as it turns out, found their way into a book. Sketch People: Stories Along the Way (Inspiring Voices/Guideposts) will be out in January 2012. I am deeply appreciative of all the folks who took the time to share their stories with me. My appreciation extends to photographer Alina Oswald for her fine, thoughtful work and to my son, Zeke Spooner, for all his behind-the-scenes help.

So, friends and readers, that’s what Sketch People and I are about.

Got stories?


Lisa said...

I would love to read your book about cats. Princess Diana, my cat, and I love kitty books.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Lisa! I'll send you the info via FB.

ANO07 said...

Chasing the Bliss

We all chase to find our bliss, the moment that defines our dreams come true, or the moment of pure happiness. Sketch People shows us that that is, indeed, possible and that real, ordinary people can become extraordinary in their own ways. So, Sketch People (the blog and the book) are a template, a model to follow for everybody trying to makes his/her dreams come true.

Every piece of your writing touches the soul and this piece is no different. I consider every Sketch People story (should I call it a "sketch story"? :-)) a droplet of reality that offers readers a pure perspective in life, defining life's complex, multidimensional structure while showing readers that, indeed, the state of bliss exists, as an intrinsic part of reality. Because your real life Sketch People characters have found it, that bliss, by doing what they love and/or by making a difference. Arriving to that place is never easy, as we learn from your characters' journeys. But what makes Sketch People exceptional is that it gives readers 'wings' to fly, to find their bliss or make a difference or live their passion.

Beautiful work, as always, T.J.! I have to make sure I have the right count and order copies for everybody... Thanks!

T. J. Banks said...

Thank you, Alex. It has been quite a journey, hasn't it? Your work as photographer and design person on the SKETCH PEOPLE book has been invaluable. And, for those of you who've only come to the blog recently, pleasae check out Alina/Alex's 2010 interview here -- "Painting -- & Writing -- with Light." She was one of the very first Sketch People!

Layla ( Cat Wisdom 101) said...

T.J. my friend and fellow CWA member Ingrid sent me. I loved your guest post today. Coincidentally, my first kitten as a young child was a gray kitten named Smokey. I look forward to more your your sketches.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, Layla. I enjoy doing the guest posts for The Conscious Cat: it's fun (and refreshing) to write from a feline point of view now and then. Likewise, I enjoy doing my sketches here and finding out why people do what they do.