John Banks was born in Asheville, NC. His storytelling is very much in the Southern tradition, with a special affinity for humorists such as Mark Twain and the Old Southwest school of writers. Though entirely imaginary, much of the material in Glorify Each Day must have come from his many years as a teacher in the public schools and community colleges of his native state and from the three years he spent as an a community college administrator.
It’s about a guy who knows he has screwed up his life and he desperately wants to put things right, but he has no idea how to go about finding happiness again. He teaches a GED class at a community college, and I introduce the readers to the motley assortment of students that he has. Each student is given an essay assignment, and I’ve gotten some really good responses about these totally fictional essays that I have these students write. Each essay is very different in tone and style, to reflect each character, but I also wanted the essays to reflect in different ways some of the same inner conflicts that the main character is suffering through. I think the reader will see the irony in that these students in some ways have a much better understanding of life than their confused, helpless teacher.
There are a lot of flashback scenes throughout the story. I write very short chapters, and move around a lot between different characters and different places and time, but not in a way that will confuse anyone, I don’t think. There are stories woven throughout the novel about Tommy – the main character – and his college sweetheart Cait. There’s a story about Tommy and his childhood friend Charles. These stories are revealed gradually and I think I do a good job of building suspense – the reader knows that something horrible happens to Cait and Charles, at the hands of Tommy, and these stories build to a nice climax.
There’s also a bit of a surprise twist near the end of the book, but it is something that is foreshadowed earlier and so shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to readers who have been paying attention.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
As I mentioned earlier, the main character is Tommy. He also answers to the name of Teach. He has embraced teaching as his life’s calling, and is very protective of his GED students – but a little too protective, as readers will find out. He has a terrible temper, which has been the main source of his troubles. But I also wanted to make Tommy a very funny character. He’s suffering a lot of grief and guilt, but he uses humor as his shield to hide his troubles from the rest of the world.
Another important character is Cait, Tommy’s former girlfriend. She’s smart and funny, too, like Tommy, but she is more mature and is probably a lot better off without him. There are many different characters in Glorify Each Day and they are all used in the novel as different prisms through which to see Tommy.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
They’re totally imaginary. It’s all about making stuff up. That’s the only thing that makes it fun. As the disclaimer always says, “any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental.”
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A lot of both. I had a broad idea of where the story was going, and some specific plot points that I adhered to, but I usually didn’t know exactly where I was going until I got there. Every chapter in the book had a definite purpose for being written, and I think I managed to accomplish everything I set out to do with each chapter, but a lot of the details will just come to you rather magically as you write.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Not too much. I kept the setting a little vague on purpose. The original idea I had was to make the setting a lot more specific, but I decided that it suited my purposes better to keep things kind of generalized. It was important to me that the story take place in the South, but that’s about as specific as I wanted to get. I wanted as many people as possible to be able to relate to this kind of place. I gave the town a funny name, and gave it a funny kind of notoriety – but most small towns have a funny kind of notoriety anyway, so I felt okay doing that.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
On page 69 we’re in the middle of one of the little pieces of satire that I wanted to put into the book. It’s a chapter about the decline of the newspaper industry in America. My wife works for a newspaper and so we know first-hand how difficult it is to be in that profession now. I came up with what I thought were a couple of really far-fetched ideas for saving the local newspaper in the small town where the story takes place. When my wife read this chapter, I figured she would just roll her eyes and tell me what a stupid idea it was, but she said that she was surprised someone at her paper hadn’t already tried to do this. So maybe the ideas in this chapter aren’t as far-fetched as I thought they were.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
Since I’m on page 69, why don’t I just use the first part of this chapter and you can decide for yourself how far-fetched it all is.
THE TOX CITY CHANTICLEER, the local newspaper, had been the voice of the county for nearly one hundred years. The paper, up until a few years ago, had been in the same family since it was founded. But newspapers had hit hard times, and the Chanticleer was not spared. But it was also not giving up. Its editor had come up with an innovative idea for keeping the paper afloat, which, though controversial, was proving to be quite successful.
The Chanticleer, though never the New York Times, had, up until the previous decade, been a thriving enterprise. Ten years ago, they had a reporting staff consisting of four eager beavers just out of college, willing to do the most mundane tasks and cover the most uninteresting events without complaint, and one veteran of fifty years, Sophie Bologna, who, though jaded and ready to retire, enjoyed her role as mentor to all the young pups who passed through the newsroom over the years on their way to better jobs at bigger papers. Now, there was no money to hire young pups and the ones who had been here most recently had been laid off, so that the only full-time reporter left on staff was the seventy-three-year-old Sophie.
As the reporting corps dwindled, Sophie’s job had become more and more impossible. She threatened retirement daily, though the Chanticleer had been her life and love. Realizing the Grand Dame of the Tox City intelligentsia was indeed headed prematurely to her grave if something wasn’t done about the situation in the newsroom, the paper’s publisher delivered an ultimatum to its new editor – find a better way to publish before Sophie perished.
When this ultimatum had been handed down, the editorial “department” – that is, two men sharing one desk – was in the throes of a leadership crisis of its own, similar to the predicament Sophie found herself in, but further advanced. The paper’s editor of twenty-five years had just quit, in order to spend more time with his grandchildren and less time with chest pains. That left the day-to-day editorial decisions in the hands of the erstwhile assistant editor, a young man with more ideas than knowledge and more ambition than experience.
As it turned out, however, that combination was just what the day demanded.
Every paper in the country, trying to compete with the internet, had established online versions of its product, with unimpressive results. Online sites certainly weren’t pulling the newspaper industry out of its tailspin. It was inevitable the print media would need to adopt its “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” survival strategy, but the innovative new Chanticleer editor hit upon the notion that perhaps the paper was choosing to emulate the wrong aspect of online publishing. Rather than following its business model, why not imitate its reporting model? Professional journalists were being laid off by the trainload, yet never in the history of information dissemination had there been more journalists. Blogs, wikis, personal homepages. Now, everyone was a reporter. It was, in reality, the antiquated, elitist publishing ethos that was responsible for the downfall of newspapers. What was needed, the trailblazing new editor realized, was not merely an online version of its print edition, but a print version of what was being done online by ordinary people the world over, ordinary people now seized with the spirit of publishing, the thirst for gathering knowledge combined with the ability to give creative expression – a thirst and ability all people had, but which had until now been kept secreted by an elitist, self-serving minority of professionals who had convinced everyone else it was only they who were qualified to gather and report knowledge, when, it was now being shown, anyone could do it. It was as if a secret society of pedaling enthusiasts had managed, through coercion and conspiracy, to convince the rest of the world that they, and only they, had enough training and talent to ride a bicycle.
Once word got out the Chanticleer was looking for amateur local reporters, people, while not literally lining up at the door, contacted the paper in an almost ceaseless stream. Doctors, lawyers, business people, teachers, artists, people of every professional stripe wanted to help write the town daily. These were people, most of whom had been born here, who had an enormous interest in, and knowledge of, this community – two things that could never be said of the young itinerant reporters who came to town for a couple of years before moving on, regardless of whatever skills or enthusiasm they brought with them from journalism school. They were also people who cared very deeply about the Chanticleer. This was their newspaper; they read it every morning, ever since they were old enough to care about what was going on around them. And they were saddened and frustrated by what had happened to their newspaper. No, it wasn’t the reporters’ fault, or the editor’s, or anybody else’s, but the paper just wasn’t very good anymore. And now they’d been given a chance to take the bull by the horns and save something that meant a lot to them.
And don’t discount the innocent thrill of seeing your name in the paper, especially as a by-line. Nobody could get excited about seeing their name somewhere on the internet. It was a new medium, democratic by nature, so from the get-go regular folks who would never dream of seeing their name in the newspaper on a regular basis could expect to see themselves Googled, Facebook’d, emailed, blogged. But the newspaper – that was different. It was a time-honored tradition to get excited about seeing your name in the paper; and, of course, it had always had the old-boys’-club exclusivity about it to keep out the riffraff. And if someone got used to seeing their name in print and decided they didn’t have the time to devote to the cause anymore, then there was always someone else in the community who could be persuaded to take the baton and run with it.
This journalism-by-community may not have met strict professional standards of objectivity, but then again, could a young kid just out of journalism school have learned enough about how to recognize his own prejudices and the obfuscations of others to ensure a high level of objectivity on his part? And anyway, that’s what Sophie was for. Relieved now of her burden as the sole reporter on staff, she no longer had to rush off to every car crash or grand opening or school board meeting, and instead, she was now, in effect if not title, the editor of the Chanticleer. Every evening she would pore over all the copy submitted by her legion of DIY newshounds. Sophie knew most of these reporters personally, and so she also knew their proclivities. She knew who always voted Democrat and who Republican; she knew who had had affairs or had been arrested once; she knew who donated to which organizations; she knew who had what axes to grind and what causes to promote. And she had been around the business long enough to know a tilted story when she saw one; so she would make whatever editorial changes were needed to correct some obvious bias or novice’s error and then, with her night’s work done, she would put yet another edition of the Chanticleer proudly to bed.
So, under Sophie’s watchful eye and with a brigade of motivated, idealistic professionals who, though without any training in journalism, nonetheless had adequate writing skills, the Tox City Chanticleer was able to once again satisfy their loyal readership. And here’s the kicker, the rim-shot, the punch line, the too-good-to-be-true part of this whole idea – these people would do all of these things for free.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, John. We wish you much success!