In high school, Leo W. Banks worked loading delivery trucks with the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe. In those days the Sunday paper was really heavy, so he switched from lifting to writing. He graduated from Boston College and earned a masters degree from the University of Arizona, where he later taught writing. His articles have appeared in the USA Today, Newsday, Miami Herald, National Review, National Geographic Traveler, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal and many others. He has been a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and, yes, the Boston Globe.
He has written four books of Old West history for Arizona Highways publishing and co-wrote a book about the Grand Canyon. His book about the saguaro cactus won’t stop selling. He has won thirty-eight statewide, regional and national journalism awards and today writes a column for True West magazine. Double Wide is his first novel.
From the Author:
I wrote about my father’s World War II service, beginning with his enlistment in April 1942, followed by training in England, landing at Utah Beach on D Day, the Battle at Cherbourg, and the Battle of the Bulge.
My favorite story about Dad: The day before VE Day, he was riding in a jeep with a German interpreter and a driver. The night was so dark, the driver couldn’t see that the bridge over the ravine ahead had been blown up by retreating Germans. The jeep catapulted into it. Dad’s glasses and everything else went flying. He suffered broken ribs, a broken tailbone and was temporarily paralyzed.
After a night in the care of a kindly German couple, he was taken to a hospital in Paris. During his recovery, the Army told him he was eligible for a Purple Heart. Dad, who always had bad eyesight, said, “I don’t want a Purple Heart. I want my damn glasses back.”
Read about him here.
Leo Talks to Himself
- Where were you born?
In South Boston. In a brick apartment building called Lennon Court.
- What memories do you have of Massachusetts?
Snow and nuns, often on the same day. In grade school, our desks had inkwell holes. If a kid was out sick, one of the nuns would put a raw onion in the hole to kill the germs. All it did was make our eyes water.
In the 7th grade, I spent many weekends diagramming sentences for Sister Mary Carlos. She was a fearsome disciplinarian. But it sure helped to learn the language.
My high school was right on Boston Harbor, and in January, after stepping off the subway, the wind coming off the water was absolutely arctic. But the Jesuits had a cure.
My homeroom teacher was a nervous, half-pint Latin scholar who had a speech impediment that caused him to say words twice. He’d make a fist and rap slow learners on the head with his big ring. “Pay attention, attention!” We thawed out fast.
Lennon Court, South Boston (hotpads.com)
- First writing?
When I was 10, I wrote a book about the Civil War. It was 10 pages long, not including the introduction that my father, a math professor, wrote. Riveting stuff.
At Boston College, I wrote sports pieces for The Heights, the student newspaper. Also in college, I wrote and handed out a humor magazine called the Timmy News, which was along the lines of National Lampoon.
Copies might still be found underfoot in assorted public latrines in Boston’s seedier precincts. If any are discovered, the politically correct cops will surely haul me away with a raincoat over my head.
- What was newspaper work like?
As a high school kid, I loaded trucks with the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe. My high school was right across Morrissey Boulevard from the Globe building. My best friend was Front Page Farrell. We’d leave school, hop the fence running down the center of the boulevard, and, hoping we weren’t crushed by rushing traffic, which through some miracle we weren’t, go to work.
- No, I mean your first writing job at a newspaper.
Oh. At The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, I wrote a consumer complaint column called Troubleshooter. I’d get letters from nice old ladies who ordered an Elvis Presley Love Me Tender alarm clock from a P.O. box somewhere and never got it. My job was to right the wrong. I’d call and say, “Rest easy, Ma’am. Troubleshooter’s on the case.”
It was great experience. Learned how to talk to ticked-off people.
I moved on to features and later magazines and had a blast. Got to meet and talk to interesting people.
I acted in a TV movie called September Gun. Well, I didn’t exactly act. I just stood there wearing a ridiculous hat. Robert Preston, of Music Man fame, threw a shot of whiskey on me. I traveled around Mexico with the Juarez Indios, of Mexico’s AAA baseball league, and wrote about it for Sports Illustrated. I interviewed a guy who played poker with Wyatt Earp.
- What’s with the middle initial on your byline? Sounds chi-chi.
When I was maybe 12 or 13 and got my first savings account, my dad sat me down and said that Leo W. Banks was my official, legal name. That sounded important to me and it stuck.
- Any new writing projects?
I’ve written a country song about a guy on parole and a girl on the dole. They meet on Match.com. It’s a love story called My Big Butt Baby, and it’s a real toe-tapper. More news to come.
- Do you read the comments?
No. Reading the comments is like walking into a biker bar wearing an Armani suit. It doesn’t end well.
- Favorite novels?
How much time do we have? To name two, The Great Gatsby, The Big Sleep. Wait, I have a third: The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout. It’s about J.B. Books, a dying gunfighter who comes to El Paso in 1901. In the movie version, John Wayne played Books in his final film performance. The Shootist might be the best Western novel ever written.
- Favorite nonfiction?
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. Love that first sentence: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “‘out there.'”
The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s novel about Gettysburg. Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. His character descriptions are brilliant.
Boston Red Sox.
- Favorite movies?
So many. The Graduate, The Godfather, Good Fellas. But most of my favorites have horses in them. Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Open Range. The love story between Kevin Costner and Annette Bening is fantastic. Just like the love story between John Wayne and Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo makes the movie. It was co-written by Leigh Brackett, and I’m sure she wrote those scenes between the two.
- Is this your first novel?
Published novel, yes. Like most writers, I’ve got a bunch of old manuscripts in my drawer, finished and unfinished.
- How do you write?
Badly at first. Each draft gets a little better.
Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Robert Parker, Robert Crais, Jim Thompson. I could go on. Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro stuns and frightens every time I read it.
- Where do you get your ideas?
It’s 7 a.m. and I need to produce copy, so I start putting words on the screen. I really don’t want to know where I get my ideas. I treat what comes out of my brain in the morning like the smelly guy talking to himself on the bus. Best leave him alone.
Leo was an extra in September Gun, a 1983 movie starring Robert Preston, Sally Kellerman, and Patti Duke Astin. Leo appears as an extra in this scene. Leo has a beard and is wearing a white hat and shirt and brown vest. He gets splashed when Robert Preston throws his drink. Riveting acting!