Author Interview: Victor J Banis

Author Bio Victor J Banis:

I’ve been writing professionally for nearly half a century, with more than 150 published books to my credit, many of them critically praised (“the master’s touch in storytelling,” Publishers Weekly). Native of Ohio, longtime Californian and now live and write full time in West Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge. Most recent works: Longhorns (Carroll and Graf); Lola Dances (MLR Press); Slow Dance (CarnalDesiresPublishing). I write in all kinds of genres, both gay and straight, humor, mystery, horror, erotica, even a recent cookbook.

Author Interview

It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a ‘real’ job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?

Victor Banis: I’ve mostly written, but I did work for about 15 years in Property Management in San Francisco. I’m retired now, except for the writing.

What compelled you to write your first book?

Victor Banis: I started writing as a young teen, a series of Nancy Drew type mysteries featuring a classmate, Carol Cail nee Peters, and wrote for years for my own pleasure. I wrote my first published novel mostly on a whim.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Victor Banis: I’ve always been a writer.

Tell us a little bit about your book/s. What are their titles; which is your favorite if you have more than one, and briefly let us know what they are about. Pay particular attention to your most recent book and/or your first book:

Victor Banis: Way too many to list here, but there is a biblio on my website, These days I mostly let the stories choose me, and when they get really insistent, then I start putting them down. Longhorns took me over completely and I wrote it in two weeks. Lola Dances was an idea I resisted for ages because it dealt with a cross dresser and I did not think I could do justice to that subject, knowing very little about it – but, it just wouldn’t go away, so I thought I’d write a page or two to get it out of my system, and next thing you know…Slow Dance I wrote years ago, and it wasn’t very good, so I put it aside and rediscovered it in a box a year or so ago, and rewrote it.

Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?

Victor Banis: I’m always working on several things. I just finished a police procedural, Deadly Nightshade, that was quickly picked up by MLR. I’m critiquing works for a couple of writers, and editing an anthology of short pieces from my local writers group, titled The Green Rolling Hills – due out late this year from Wildside Press. And working with another writer on a humorous novel, Heaven Help Us. Also sitting down to edit Angel Land, a futuristic thriller.

How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?

Victor Banis: Even after all these years, I am always wet-my-pants excited to hold a new book in my hands. I hope I never lose that.

What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?

Victor Banis: I listen to all kinds of music, but never while I write. I give my writing my undivided attention.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?

Victor Banis: Almost anything can – a comment overheard in passing, a photo, a phrase from another writer – Lola came from a novel I was reading set in the gold mining camps, and how hard it was for a woman then and there, and I thought, “What if it was a small, effeminate male? Wouldn’t it be really tough?”

What one thing are you the most proud of in your life?

Victor Banis: I was indicted on Federal obscenity charges for my first novel (for some very tepid lesbian scenes) and nearly went to prison. I became a strong advocate for freedom of speech in writing, and especially, for glbt writings, and my experiences helped to free all writers to write more openly, but especially opened doors for gay and lesbian writers, and ultimately made me something of a cult figure in that genre. It is very gratifying to know that I made a difference for others. I am nearly 71 years old. At this point, you don’t want to look over your shoulder and see nothing behind you but a trail of wasted moments.

What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing?

Victor Banis: I’m a single gay male, now senior. For the most part, my family has been very supportive.

The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?

Victor Banis: I don’t feel that I create my characters so much as discover them. They come to me, and by the time I write their stories, they are already full blown and altogether real to me. I always see them as people I know/have known, and not as works of fiction. Yes, I think there is some of me in each of them – and vice versa.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?

Victor Banis: I have a great many favorite writers. I learned much, and still do, from W. S. Maugham, but I am entirely self taught as a writer – for better or for worse.

When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?

Victor Banis: I loved those Nancy Drew books. In the 60s, I read everything by Mary Stewart and Helen McInnes. I read pretty much everything by Le Carre and Graham Greene. But I am an obsessive reader. Lacking anything else, I read cookbooks.

What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

Victor Banis: I don’t get to read as much now as I’d like and I find many big selling authors today quickly burn themselves out – great first book, sometimes very good second book – and downhill after that. I like Janet Evonavich. I don’t limit myself so far as genre. I never liked being pigeonholed.

Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?

Victor Banis: I don’t think they will have any Pulitzers or Nobels to mention. I never think of myself as a “great” writer, whatever that is. At my best – and every artist deserves to be judged by his best – I’m a very good one. I am essentially a story teller. I give people a good read. I can name off the top of my head a score of writers better than I, and everyone reading this could easily add a score more – but there are few who have worked longer and harder than I to master the craft of writing; not so very many who are more supportive of other writers or more open to helping them; and none, I am sure, more committed to the genre of glbt fiction than I have been. I’m content with that.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now – city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?

Victor Banis: I grew up on a farm in a small Ohio community. That has certainly influenced my life, including my writing. But I lived most of my adult life in California, Los Angeles and then San Francisco. The ideal for me would be to have a place in the city and one in the country as well (that Gemini thing). But, really, I have always believed in taking my happiness with me; i.e., you live in your head, really, it doesn’t matter much where you are physically, the way I see it. Oh, a little apartment in Paris would be nice, I suppose. But I’d still be seeing everything through the same eyes. The grass isn’t really any greener over there.

Do you have any pets? What are they? Tell us about them.

Victor Banis: I had dogs for years, and loved them as family. But, my life has been lived mostly by the seat of my pants. That’s fine for me, no complaints, but I concluded some years ago that it probably wasn’t the best kind of life to share with “youngsters.” I’m willing to sleep under a bridge if I have to (haven’t yet, but come close a few times) but I would not want to inflict that upon pets. For me, alone works best.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?

Victor Banis: I live a very stripped down life, so there’s almost no furniture in my house. I have a computer station in the front room and a window on either side where I can look out. No music. Everything very bare bones.

Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?

Victor Banis: No television, but I do watch movies on DVDs.

What about movies? Same as above.

Victor Banis: Again, my tastes in movies are varied. I’m currently watching a TV series, Threshold, and another one, The Tudors, switching back and forth. I just ordered The Life of Brian (Monte Python). I’m more inclined to watch old movies than recent ones, but I enjoyed The Queen. Anything, really with Helen Mirren.

Focusing on your most recent (or first) book, tell our readers what genre your book is and what popular author you think your writing style in this book is most like.

Victor Banis: Lola Dances is set in the slums of NYC and the gold mining camps of California. As for genre, I suppose it would be classified as gay fiction, though again I really don’t like labels. Slow Dance is straight, an erotic thriller. They’re quite different. I can’t think of any popular writer to whom I would compare my writing style. I write Victor J. Banis books. I don’t know anyone else who does that.

How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?

Victor Banis: I can write very fast. I have done books in 4 – 5 days. Longhorns took 2 weeks (but total immersion, which is physically very draining.) I just finished a police procedural, but that was a departure for me, something I hadn’t done before, so it took more like 3 months. I never grade myself in terms of how long or how quickly. I just try to get myself out of the way and let the book write itself in its own time. I am very much opposed to “forcing” a book by adhering to some kind of schedule, although I do write every day.

Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?

Victor Banis: I’m very fortunate to have a number of people who help me in quite tangible ways; I live rent free in a house supplied by a lifelong friend, and I have a nephew who helps with expenses – but both are modest and prefer that I don’t mention their names.

Anything else you want your readers to know?

I don’t think there is a much of interest to tell about myself beyond what can be found on Wikipedia or on my website, I grew up in a very large family (11 children) and in dire poverty, but surrounded by intelligence and a sense of joy in living that has served me well all these years. As children, we were encouraged always to give whatever it might be our best shot, and discouraged from any defeatism. We were not, are not, quitters or whiners. I am a graduate of the school of hard knocks, and have lived a life that seems to me nothing short of miraculous, coming from where I did. I start each morning giving thanks for another day. I continue to be, as I have been for many decades, drunk on the magic of writing, and I think it is my writing that best defines me, for good or ill. Only the mediocre artist is always at his best. I’m happy to say I’ve written an awful lot, and a lot of it was awful – but, some of it, like some of me, is very good. As for the rest – well, if everything here were perfect, there wouldn’t be much point in Heaven, would there?

My books can be found on my website, of course, and on Amazon as well (Slow Dancing might not be there yet)

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One comment to Author Interview: Victor J Banis

  • Charlotte  says:

    Congratulations on all your achievements! It was very interesting to read about all your accomplishments. Best wishes with your writing.

    Charlotte Barnes
    Author of “The Mansfield Lighthouse Cats”

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