Author Interview – Kate Banks

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I did my first author’s interview on Wednesday and what a blast. It was stimulating, encouraging and a lot of fun. Kate has been writing pretty much all her life, but was published first at 24. She has gone on to publish well over 30 books (a list can be found here) for children, teens and adults, in fiction and in non-fiction. She has lived for many years in Southern Europe – starting her writing career in Rome (her husband is Italian) and for several years now based here between Monaco and Menton. Probably the biggest lesson I learnt was – never try and tape an interview in a noisy bar! I wish I could have transcribed the whole interview, as it was fascinating and wide reaching, but I shall limit myself to some key questions.

Joanna: What has your publishing path been like?

Kate: I started out years ago when it was a very intimate, almost family atmosphere, with Alfred Knopf, a division of Random House. At that time RH made most of its money from books like the Return of the Jedi, Star Wars and Barbar the Elephant etc. They also published many classics, and then lesser-known writers producing good literature, but with these they were often breaking even or even at a loss.  They could do this because Star Wars kept this small house afloat for years.  Publishers now are running scared. The bottom line today is business.

Until recently RH still remained a family publishing house, but sadly these no longer exist.

I have had the same editor the entire time and I moved because my editor moved, to Farrar Strauss & Geroux, bought out by MacMillan a few years ago. She is 80 this year, and was given her own imprint. She supported my projects and loves my work. It’s a bit of a marital relationship. You stay married to your editor and there are fidelity issues as everyone thinks about having an affair, but……

Joanna:  Is your editor hands on?

Kate: I have never needed much editing, which is a lucky thing. Everyone has a different experience. She has a lot of respect for the writers she works with and she is hands on and gives comments on everything, though less so these days as everyone is so overworked, I have been writing my own jacket flaps for years.

Joanna: Do you have an agent?

Kate: I took an agent two years ago because I started doing adult books. I wrote a literary manuscript. I signed up with Writer’s House, one of the most prestigious literary agencies in the world. My agent has two manuscripts of mine that she is eager to sell. But this was just as the market crashed so I don’t know what’s going to happen. It is important to know what you are you looking for. I think it may be best to stick with a small house that does more literary books

Joanna: What about your subject matter?

Kate: I don’t write for a market. Which is my choice. It is a hard choice. It’s not a personal decision; it’s hard to explain how I write, but it is an inspired process that comes from deep within. I think the best writing comes from the heart, though now many people don’t live from the heart so they don’t recognize this work. Listen to others, but in the end listen to yourself. Publishers don’t like to admit it, but they don’t know what the market will be anyway.

Joanna: Does your publisher talk about the changes happening in the publishing world and are you managing to keep up with these changes?

Kate: Actually no and I don’t have daily contact with her (my editor). They are very busy. There’s nothing like getting a phone call and being told in person that your book has been accepted; it’s just not the same by email…….and the rejections are by email now…… everything is by email.

I do look to electronic publishing. That is one reason I hired an agent, to have them stay on top of that. Publishers will not be completely up front about their offers.

One of my projects is a manual type of book and with this I will look to electronic publishing because of the target age. It’s aimed at exam age, 12 and upward, and it is based on the field of energy medicine and what goes on in the body when we take exams. This is my second profession, Energy Medicine. I’ll send you a copy when it’s done. It should be finished in the next week or so. (*Joanna nods excitedly*)

This book explains to teens what happens when they take exams, physiologically. Exam taking is a skill set, with very little to do with what you know and nothing to do with retention.  …. … I then present energy techniques to them to improve exam skills. I work with kids with exam stress a lot and there are little tricks that they can learn and are very empowering for young people to learn.  I would like to get someone interested in an app so kids can have it very accessible. (*Joanna becomes excited about the application of this book to many of her students as a guidance counselor*).

Joanna: So you are writing for adults, for children, fiction and non-fiction!

Kate: I started when I was 24, as you go on you do branch out….

Joanna: What was you first book?

Kate: Alphabet Soup. Peter Sis, my illustrator, was an unknown artist from Czechoslovakia and he has just agreed to do the pencil drawing in this spiritual novel for kids I am writing. For me this is a beautiful circle that has come around and I have always loved his work and wanted to do another special project with him.

Joanna: Have you collaborated a lot with other illustrators?

Kate: I have collaborated a lot with all my illustrators. I went to an exhibition when I was living in Rome and Peter was a still life, struggling artist and I loved his work. Because I found him myself, my publisher had to allow us a lot of collaboration. We even made dummies together, which the publishers, Gallimard, loved.

Joanna: At what age did you start writing?

Kate: I knew I wanted to write since I was little and was good at and it was clear that I would write well. My teachers encouraged me and I had a lot of confidence to keep going, which is crucial.

Joanna: Do you have a writing routine and where do you write?

Kate: I do have a study, but I move around the house all the time. And now my two sons aren’t at home, I can use their rooms too. If I have writer’s block I go to a bar. I have a few I go to. Now on a Saturday morning I drive to a bar in Bordighera in Italy and sit there for an hour or so. I write a lot in the car when I am a passenger. You realize when the thoughts flow and you get used to using the time. I get up often at 5.00 in the morning and have to write for 5 or 10 minuets in a notebook – fortunately my husband is used to that. I make it a rule to write every morning, but never set word goals, ever. You need to be disciplined.

I have tons of notebooks I carry around all the time. (Kate shows me a notebook with words from Max’s Words, another of her picture books, and then notes from her present novel.) I always work on more than one project at a time, especially if I have a block with one manuscript. I try to have a novel going as well as shorter books.

Joanna: One last question. What advice would you give to new writers like myself?

The most important thing today is to find an agent. Research agents. What kind of books are you writing? Are they character driven, mass market stories? Then find an agent who likes these?  If more educational, then an agent that has that bias. Don’t always look for the big agencies. Get a match.

Joanna: Thank you so much, Kate.


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13 Responses to Author Interview – Kate Banks

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Bravo — what an easy flowing interview packed with so much wonderful information. I liked Kate’s books that you’ve reviewed, and am even more interested in checking out others. But, I believe I would like her as an individual. I deeply resonate with her comment about writing from the heart and then being able to listen. She’s right, not many people have a clue as to what she means. I can tell that she is very spiritual.

    Her interest in energy medicine grabbed my attention. Her project sounds fascinating and of great value to kids who have difficulty taking tests — multiple choice were killers for me. I did far better doing the make-up exams in college which were always essays. As a guidance counselor, I can see your interest for students. An Apps would be so helpful. I really hope you get to read a copy — that is so exciting.

    I enjoyed the discussion about her working relationship with her editor — who seemed like a mentor and wise woman for her in the early days. Her comment about being married to her editor and the fidelity issues etc. was priceless. It doesn’t sound like we will expeience that luxury today with agents.

    She also gives very sound advice about finding an agent who shares your same interests.

    Joanna, very powerful interview and I am so happy that you had the opportunity to speak with Kate. Could tell that you connected!

  2. Joanna says:

    Pat, thank you so much for such a detailed and thoughtful reaction to the interview.

    I am glad you could sense the connection we had. We had a very interesting discussion on writing or not for the market!

    I do realize that it was a little long and I need to learn to edit interviews more, but it was hard to know what more to cut as it all seemed insightful, especially to some of the new writers that read the blog.

    It certainly did make me yearn somewhat for a time of small, family orientated publishers.

    Kate recommended Lenny’s Space to me so you might try and see if your library has that one. I sure hope her agent manages to find a publisher for the two adult novels as I would like to read those now.

  3. Patricia Tilton says:

    Are her novels spiritual? HayHouse publishes people like Wayne Dyer, Caroline Myss etc. There is also Harmony Press, and Free Press. Don’t know if they publish spiritual novels, but definitely spiritual books.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I don’t know as we didn’t really talk much about them, but I am pretty sure with her knowledge and interest in energy medicine, her approach would be holistic to any writing, and maybe more explicit in the adult work.

  4. Joanna, I am so glad that you have told me about this interview with Kate. I haven’t read any of her works yet, but after this interview, I would be sure to look them up. I loved how you did an actual interview – I usually conduct mine through emails then meet up with the authors/illustrators after the feature is over for coffee/conversation that I usually do not include anymore in my post. But this kind of exchange that you have with Kate is lively, dynamic and vibrant.

    I also love the fact that Peter Sis was mentioned! How fortuitous! I just discovered him this morning as I was going around some of the bookstores here in Prague. He is hardly what you would call a struggling artist now since “The Wall” has received a Caldecott Honor award. I understand that he’s based now in New York with his family. I am hoping I could also connect with him. I bought two of his picture books earlier (my poor dear credit card). Will definitely review them in GatheringBooks and let you know.

    • Joanna says:

      Yes, what luck you happened to be in Prague and mentioned Peter Sis to me. Actually I am very keen to look up more of his work too (I haven’t read the Wall yet) and I look forward to your post on him. It is such a pleasure occasionally to have the opportunity to meet the writer or artist behind the books we love. I did review a couple of Kate’s books a fortnight ago and will do one more next week, but I know you won’t be disappointed with any of her work. I was fortunate that it was Kate who suggested we meet rather than do it by email and it was cool, though I had quite a struggle to hear the playback with all the background bar noise…. and everything she said was interesting so I hard a hard time cutting – but it was worth it. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Diane says:

    Wow! Joanna I had to come and congratulate you not only on this lovely interview but the contacts you are now making…. go you! The project that Kate is doing on body and stress during exam time sounds amazing, and I so wish it had been around when I was at school. In fact my last year at school I never got to sit my exams as I stressed out not only from the thought of sitting them but the problems of home. It was also a crucial School Cert year. My face just blew up so I couldn’t see out one eye and all the doctors said was she needs rest and quiet. No medication. It will be wonderful to know that kids these days will have access to wonderful books like Kate’s to help them. I smiled to myself when Kate said “it has little to do with what you know and nothing to do with retention…” oh thats a relief,… I am not known for retention….lol.
    Seriously I am so impressed on this wonderful interview, you are a natural, and gleened much from Kate in such a lovely friendly way. When I read it, I thought how Pat would love reading this…. it is wonderful how we interlock our interests in what we are reading, reviewing and writing, not to mention intervewing. As Pat says Bravo Joanna.
    PS: As I mentioned in our other conversations Joanna, I am still wating to hear if I have an interview to do soon.

    • Joanna says:


      Thank you, as always, for your warm words of encouragement. Kate says that so many kids and parents have this kind of “so it is normal, I am not dense…” type reaction to the content of this new book and then if they learn some very basic, easy techniques to do with the body’s energy and destressing it etc, they find enormous relief. I do so wish you had had access to such insights as your body so evidently went through enormous stresses at that time. Actually though aimed at children, clearly the message and techniques are as relevant to adults. Even if I hadn’t blogged about the meeting, it would have been worthwhile for me. The interview was not hard as Kate is a vivacious, fluent communicator. I do so hope you get your desired interview opportunity too, Diane.

  6. Excellent interview, Joanna! It was so good to read her views about writing from the heart — that spoke to my heart as well. Her experiences over the years as the publishing world has changed were fascinating to read. Interesting that she only got an agent a couple of years ago, yet her key advice to aspiring authors is to find an agent. Very interesting to get a successful writer’s input, and what an experience it must have been for you, Joanna, to get to do this interview.

    I confess that I may take some hints from the questions you asked, if my intended interviewee agrees to being interviewed — may I?

    Now to read everyone else’s ocmments.

    • Joanna says:

      Hi Beth,
      Thanks for your encouragement. Kate specifically looked for an agent when she started writing for adults as she just didn’t want to use her precious writing time looking for a publisher and marketing. She began at a time when it was still common to send unsolicted manuscripts to editors. Please do use any questions you would like and I am certainly hoping your interviewee is avalaible to be interviewed 😉

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