Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Telling Stories

                                                       (Blog Cascade)

Thank you, Samantha Mozart, for passing the baton on to me in this blog cascade. Samantha’s writing is both humorous and sensitive: each piece is colorful and multi-layered as a tapestry. She has written Begin the Night Music: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume I (2012) and To What Green Altar: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume II (2013), two incredible books that no caregiver, assisted-living facility director, or hospice worker should be without. She can be found at her blog, The Scheherazade Chronicles, spinning some pretty exceptional and imaginative prose. – http://www.salmonsaladand

What am I working on?

I’ve just finished updating Catsong, winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. I’m also writing a new book – Abys Among Us – which is about the Abyssinian cats that have played such an important part in my life. I have a couple of other book ideas that are percolating on the back burner, so to speak.

And, of course, there’s “Sketch People,” the blog that inspired the book of the same name. I also write a weekly cat behavior column for

How does it (the book/the writing in general) differ from other works?

At first glance, Abys Among Us might not seem all that different from Catsong or Derv & Co.: A Life Among Felines. But both those books are collections of stories and poems, whereas Abys Among Us is a chronological narrative. I decided early on that this particular story needs to do a gradual unfolding. You see, it’s not just about the cats. The people’s lives are interwoven with the animals, much the way they are in Joyce Stranger’s novels: the two are connected on a heart-and-soul level. In fact, in some ways, this book is even more about the human-feline bond than Catsong is.

My writing process?

Sometimes my stories start with an image or a memory-picture. I’ll drive by a field, a stretch of woods, or a house and say to myself, “That looks like a good place for a story to happen.”

Sometimes it’s a well-turned phrase that sets my writing pulse racing. Or a historical event. (Case in point:
A Time for Shadows.)

I write in bursts. I read somewhere once that it’s good to stop just as you reach an exciting point; that way, you’re rarin’ to go the next time you sit down to write. That happened a lot with Shadows -- primarily because my heroine, Iris, and the other characters were always doing such wonderful unexpected things.

I still write my rough drafts out in longhand. I make a big glorious mess, full of arrows and cross-outs; then, when I sit down at the computer, Editor Me takes over. Editor Me is kinda like a mechanic: she gets in there and takes everything apart and fiddles with the passages until she gets the story/articles/book running smoothly.

I’m in love with the rhythm of words. So, whether I’m writing or editing, I like to have some music playing in the background, something to bounce the words off of. (I had this 5th-grade teacher who used to have us write poetry to the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, and that’s how it started.) The music “trances” me, as my son, Zeke, used to say when he was little; and I enter a place where it’s just the words and I.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m a storyteller by nature. My interests are eclectic, and I think my books reflect that to some extent.

I wrote Souleiado because I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of time-travel and I like a good ghost story. I also wrote it as part of my healing process after my husband Tim died.

A Time for Shadows was written for my grandmother, Esther. She lost her older brother, Max, over in France a month before the Armistice was signed. She told me his story when I was 11. It stayed with me and became the basis for Shadows.

Sketch People: Stories Along the Way was my way of getting back to my journalistic roots. A friend made a comment about his work, and I thought, “That’s good – really good.” Suddenly, I wanted to do interviews again and talk to people about their work and their passions. Their true callings, if you will.

The cat books  -- Catsong, Houdini, and Derv & Co. -- are a natural outpouring of my love for animals in general and cats in particular.

Passing on the baton

I know a lot of incredible bloggers. Two of them, Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat ( and Bernadette Kazmarski of The Creative Cat (, obviously share my love of all things feline. Ingrid is the author of Buckley's Story, one of the most moving cat books I've ever read. It is the 2010 winner of the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award and a National Book Awards finalist.  Her latest book, Purrs of Wisdom, is a philosophical gemstone and a book I reach for whenever I need a spiritual pick-me-up.  Bernadette's Great Escapes is more than a 16-month calendar:  it is a lovely and heart-stirring collection of portraits and stories of rescued felines she has known and painted.

Ingrid and Bernadette are both such good writers, I really can’t choose between them. So I’m passing this blogging baton on to both of them: it’s up to them whether they decide to use it. Either way, I urge you to check out their blogs and their books. You’re in for some excellent reading.


assemblage333 said...

A pleasure to read about your writing process.



T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Robert!

Gwynn Rogers said...

I DO enjoy your stories and the love you too show for cats. I look forward to learning when your next book is ready to be mailed out!

You have some delightful connections with some very interesting, creative, loving, and supportive people! ;-)

Lovely post.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Gwynn! I just got bit by the storytelling bug early, I guess! I'm going over the galley proofs for the updated CATSONG now, and I hope to get through it by the end of next week. I imagine the book itself will be ready sometime in November.

Samantha Mozart said...

Thanks for the kind words, T.J. They mean a lot to me coming from such a great writer as you.

What you've written here about yourself and your writing process is good, really good. I mean that I love reading about the writing process of other authors; and you, especially, make me want to read all your books. I am saving my pennies. Truly.

Thank you for sharing a part of you here.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Samantha -- both for your comments and for extending the blogging baton to me in the first place. I, too, have always been fascinated by the creative process and love hearing writers and artists describe theirs.